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Can Doctors Be Forced to Suggest Suicide to Their Patients?

What if a state passed law that would force doctors to participate in capital punishment? It wouldn’t matter whether the doctor was personally opposed to the practice or not – the law makes it a requirement.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone would support such a law. If a doctor does not want to participate in the taking of a life, they should be exempt. Their profession, after all, centers on healing not killing.

Yet, something very similar is happening in Vermont. Except instead of inmates on death row, a state law was being interpreted to mean that doctors must suggest suicide to their patients as a treatment option – regardless of whether the doctor objects personally or professionally.

Physician assisted suicide (PAS) proponents persuaded the legislature to pass a bill legalizing that practice in the state. Then they began pushing state officials to interpret that law to require all doctors either to counsel six-month terminal patients that suicide was an option, or to refer them for that counseling. The Vermont Department of Health’s Website stated, “If a doctor is unwilling to inform a patient [about PAS], he or she must make a referral or otherwise arrange for the patient to receive all relevant information.”

But to many healthcare professionals, who took an oath to heal and not harm, physician assisted suicide is not even an option. It violates their moral and professional ethics.

So, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare (VAEH) and the Christian Medical and Dental Associations (CMDA) asked Alliance Defending Freedom to file a federal lawsuit on their behalf, asking that the government not force them to kill their patients. That seems a reasonable request given that interpreting the law in such a way amounts to a major violation of their constitutional rights.

But the judge simply determined that this was a misinterpretation of the PAS statute, which doesn’t require physicians to provide counseling, or refer for counsel, regarding PAS. The case was dismissed, and the State of Vermont entered into a settlement agreement with VAEH and CMDA. That settlement confirms that the Vermont PAS statute does not force doctors to see that their terminal patients are counseled about how to kill themselves.

That’s great news for freedom of conscience. It also is a common sense response to those who want to force doctors to give distressed patients information on how to kill themselves.

Facilitating the taking of someone’s life should never be forced on a doctor, whether it’s an inmate on death row or a patient in their office. That’s something we should all be able to get behind.


To learn more about the freedom of healthcare professionals to practice medicine according to their conscience, download our free legal resource. 

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Kevin Theriot

Senior Counsel, Vice President of Center for Life

Kevin Theriot, Esq., serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is vice president of the Center for Life.

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