Hospital shooting renews debate over assisted suicide

Published: Mar 19 2013 08:00:00 PM EDT   Updated On: Mar 21 2013 06:51:07 AM EDT
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

Tuesday's shooting at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown is renewing the debate over assisted suicide. 

Should terminally ill patients or their families be allowed to end their lives -- legally?  Medical ethics experts say there are serious risks.

When Woody Osman brought a gun into LVH, he wanted to end his dying wife's suffering.  After a stroke, Mildred Osman was partially paralyzed and could not speak or eat on her own.

"I want people to know that my dad did this strictly out of love," said the couple's daughter, Linda Mullin. "He was a broken man."

Hospital leaders said it was a tragic end to a life-long love.

"It's a love story, the elderly gentleman could not bear to see his wife suffering," said Jim Geiger, LVH's senior vice president of operations.

Many 69 News viewers agree.

"This is what happens when the medical industry won't let us die," one viewer wrote us.

Another said:  "No human being ... has the right to force someone in such a situation to continue living."

But medical ethics experts say assisted suicide is a slippery slope.

"There's certainly would be a great risk of abuse with that," said Moravian College nursing chair Kerry Cheever, who also works with St. Luke's Hospital's end-of-life hospice care.

"We're worried about abuse, in cases where someone hasn't made the decision to end their life and it is ended because of somebody else," said Kutztown University's John Lizza, who studies medical ethics.

Three states already allow doctor assisted suicide -- in limited circumstances.

"There's review of another physician; there's a waiting period," said Lizza.  "The person has to be in a terminal condition."

Six more states, including New Jersey, are considering making it legal this year.

Ethics experts agree that any suicide request must come directly from the patient, when their mind is lucid enough to make a sound decision.

"Trying to second-guess if that is exactly what the patient would have wanted when the patient is no longer competent can certainly run into all sorts of legal arguments," said Cheever.

Medical ethics experts say it's especially important to put your wishes in writing before you get terminally ill because, they say, distraught relatives often make quick, emotionally-charged decisions.