By Jonquil Frankham

WASHINGTON STATE, November 7, 2008 ( – Eastern Washington’s largest hospital system, Providence Health Care, has said assisted suicide will not be permitted in its hospitals.

The owners of Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital, a branch of Providence Health Care, said, “Providence will not support physician-assisted suicide within its ministries. This position is grounded in our basic values of respect for the sacredness of life, compassionate care of dying and vulnerable persons, and respect for the integrity of medical, nursing, and allied health professions. We do not believe health care providers should ever be put in a position of aiding a patient in taking his or her own life.”

The statement follows the deeply controversial passage of the ballot measure, I-1000, which on November 4th legalized assisted suicide in Washington State.

Author and bioethicist Wesley Smith commented on Providence’s resolve: “This is important. Medical professionals must resist turning killing … into a medical treatment.”

“None can be forced (yet) to participate,” he says, adding, “Of course, eventually the ideologues will try and force people to participate or be complicit in the killing.”

He says, however, that Providence’s example is vital because it “may save lives of people” who, because of the decisions “of non participating medical professionals, will never ask for assisted suicide.”

There is some concern among Washington physicians that they will be forced to participate in assisted suicides, but the Washington State Medical Association (WSMA) has so far said they will not. 

Providence Health Care is a not-for-profit medical organization founded and sponsored by the Catholic religious order, the Sisters of Providence. Numerous other Catholic organizations such as the Knights of Columbus of New Haven, Connecticut provided altogether approximately 57% of the funds to fight against I-1000.

I-1000, which allows physicians to prescribe lethal doses of barbiturates to patients they think have less than six months to live, was also resisted by numerous physicians. The Washington State Medical Association was emphatically against the statute.

In a press release in July, the WSMA’s president Brian Wicks said, “We believe physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the role of physicians as healers…Patients put their trust in physicians and that bond of trust would be irrevocably harmed by the provisions of this dangerous initiative.”

“Initiative-1000 gives doctors power which we do not want and which we believe is contrary to good medical practice,” he continued. “The initiative is a dangerous distraction from symptom-directed end-of-life care that provides comfort for dying patients and their families. Our focus should remain on caring for terminally ill patients and should never shift toward helping them kill themselves.”


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