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Suicide by Zoom — Technology and Dehumanization

Some have seen a silver lining in the pandemic and welcomed its encouragement of medicine practiced online, potentially freeing doctors to work across state borders, and widening access to care (or virtual care) generally. I’m not sure that’s to be celebrated in its entirety. The trend toward “telehealth” undercuts the crucial personal relationship between doctor and patient, which had already been in retreat before the virus came along.

There are other downsides, too, including lethal ones. As the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, “The pandemic is helping U.S. abortion-rights advocates achieve a long-standing goal: Make it easier for women to use pills to end pregnancies up to 10 weeks.” Get your abortion pills online — what could be more convenient?

NPR approves, quoting New York physician Meera Shah with Planned Parenthood:

“I had a patient the other day who is an emergency responder who was sitting in her ambulance and accessed abortion care via telemedicine and then drove her ambulance to our health center to pick up the meds,” Shah said. “And she was so grateful that she was able to do that and only take, you know, max 15 minutes away from her work.”

Dial “S” for Self-Murder

Wesley Smith at the Humanize blog notes another outcome: suicide by Zoom:

We are always told that “strict guidelines will protect against abuse.”

It’s always been baloney. As sold, assisted suicide was supposed to only be engaged between doctors of long-standing and patients well known to the prescriber.

That was violated in the very first legal assisted suicide in Oregon. The doctor in that case — referred by an assisted-suicide advocacy organization — only met the patient two weeks before she received her poison pills.

Very quickly, death doctors began to assist the suicides of patients they have never treated. In California, a part-time ER doctor — who spent most recent years as a photojournalist — quickly set up a suicide practice after assisted suicide was legalized. There have also been many cases of oncologists assisting the suicides of ALS patients, and other similar out-of-specialty death facilitations.

Now, death doctors are assisting suicides of patients they may never have met via Zoom and other telehealth — talk about an oxymoron in this circumstance! — means of communication. 

Wesley points out about suicide doctors, “Some ‘consult’ the patient’s primary physician. That also means some don’t. And that means some people are assisted in suicide by doctors they have never met in the flesh and who have never examined them.” Adding more technology, whatever the area in life might be, almost invariably has such a dehumanizing effect, one way or another.

Photo credit: Varun Gaba via Unsplash.