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Physician Assisted Suicide

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My elderly mother lives in a state that allows physician assisted suicide.


She has arthritis in her knee which causes her pain and makes it hard to walk.  She has said she does not want a knee replacement.  Actually she has a reason that she doesn't want just about every possible treatment her doctor suggests.


She told me she wants assisted suicide because she'd rather "die with dignity" than have to use a cane or a walker.


Does she get to make that choice?  She is not terminally ill, but she thinks she is because in her way of thinking just the fact that she's getting older is terminal.  She has had depression in the past and I think she has it again.  But she just starts yelling at me and telling me I am being disrespectful when I suggest talking to her doctor about depression.  She says she is not depressed, or even if she is it is caused by the pain in her knee, so all the more reason to die with dignity rather than continuing to suffer.


If you can't tell from how I am writing this, I think her reasoning is totally ridiculous. (She would say I just don't understand and I am being cruel by not supporting her wishes.) In my opinion she needs treatment for her depression and treatment for her knee if she wants it.  She is not terminally ill and it is beyond stupid to be thinking about suicide just because you are too much of a snob to let the neighbors see you using a cane.


Do I get to have any say in this? I am her oldest child and have Health Care Power of Attorney in the event that she is unable to express her own wishes.  But she is not unable to do that so my Health Care POA means nothing right now.   Her doctor won't discuss her health with me for privacy reasons (she probably told him not to) and I'm afraid she'll talk him into this suicide idea because it is legal in her state and she is very manipulative.


Do I have any legal rights or ability to prevent this?

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Well, your mother is free to commit suicide if she wants and is capable of doing it on her own (assuming she doesn't get committed for psychiatric help before she succeeds) but she won't get a doctor to assist her in it over a complaint that she just doesn't want to live life having to use a walker or cane. Seven states and DC allow for physician assisted suicide, and all of them place significant limitations on it. For one thing, all of those jurisdictions (last I checked anyway) required that at least one physician attest that the patient has 6 months or less left to live. So these are very much laws about ending suffering for a patient who is about to die soon anyway. These are not laws that allow reasonably healthy people a way to get help to commit suicide. No doctor is going to assist a woman who is not terminally ill in ending her life, especially for minor complaints like not wanting to use a walker or cane. Rather, they would be inclined to refer her for mental health treatment since a desire to die in that circumstance likely indicates a mental issue of some kind, perhaps severe depression. 


Assuming though that your mother is mentally competent, her health decisions are hers to make. You cannot take some legal action to override her decisions regarding her own care while she is competent. So if the law did allow her to get assisted suicide in this circumstance, that would be up to her. As hard as it can be to see close family or friends make decisions about their care that you think are terrible choices, they have the right to make those choices themselves. Just as you have the right to make the decisions for your care without others intruding and imposing their values and choices on you. 

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