Editor Barb Arland-Fye asked orthopedic surgeon Dr. Timothy Millea of Davenport to respond to questions concerning the latest developments on the issue of physician-assisted suicide (or doctor-prescribed suicide). Dr. Millea is president of the St. Thomas Aquinas Guild of the Quad Cities for Catholic medical professionals and a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Davenport.
Arland-Fye: Stephen Krason, president of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists, wrote a letter to American Medical Association (AMA) President Andrew Gurman on Oct. 31 expressing concerns about the AMA considering a change in policy that could allow physician-assisted suicide. I believe the AMA plans to discuss this issue at a meeting in mid-November?
Dr. Millea: Yes, the AMA is meeting in Orlando in mid-November, with an agenda that includes changing their previous opposition to physician-assisted suicide (PAS) to a “neutral” position. As benign as that seems, other organizations and states that have taken a “neutral” position have invariably evolved to a position of full support for PAS. With this issue, the slippery slope is steep and dangerous. Our Guild and Iowa CMA (Catholic Medical Association) members are contacting their AMA representatives to express their opposition to the AMA’s potential change to a neutral stance.
Arland-Fye: On Nov. 1, the District of Columbia City Council voted 11-2 to pass the “Death with Dignity Act” that would allow a physician to legally prescribe medications to mentally competent patients who want to end their lives and have received a terminal diagnosis of six months or less. A news article on that topic which will run in this week’s Catholic Messenger, reports that Compassion & Choices, an organization that advocates for assisted suicide, is targeting Iowa and other states in 2017. What are your thoughts?
Dr. Millea: There is no question that Iowa is a prime target for PAS in 2017. “Compassion & Choices” is the “new and improved” name for what used to be known as the Hemlock Society. Changing to a kinder, gentler name does not make their goals kinder or gentler.
Arland-Fye: How is the St. Thomas Aquinas Guild addressing the issue of physician-assisted suicide?
What if any action is the guild asking its members to take concerning physician-assisted suicide?
Has the guild approached the Iowa Legislature on this issue, or the Iowa Catholic Conference?
Dr. Millea: The Guild has discussed PAS in its monthly meetings, and information from both the Guild and the CMA are frequently distributed to members and other interested individuals. Our White Mass meeting on Oct. 1 featured Dr. Wes Ely, a critical care specialist from Vanderbilt (University), who eloquently spoke on this topic. We are also asking Guild physician members to contact their AMA representatives about this issue. Finally, we are working with the ICC (Iowa Catholic Conference) to combat the PAS efforts on both a state and federal level.
Arland-Fye: What advice do you have for our readers who want to take action on this issue?
Dr. Millea: I encourage my orthopedic patients to talk to their primary care physicians and all other health care professionals they come into contact with to bring this issue up with them. If patients are loud and persistent with their opposition to this, those responsible for their care will take notice! The voice of the lay people is critically important.