Doctor Who Aided Suicide Cleared of Misconduct
A doctor who admitted helping a leukemia patient commit suicide was cleared of misconduct charges Friday by a state health board.
A three-member panel of the Board for Professional Medical Conduct ruled that the actions of Dr. Timothy Quill were “legal and ethically appropriate.”
Quill, an internist at Genesee Hospital in Rochester, wrote in the March 7 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine that he had prescribed barbiturates for a 45-year-old patient and made sure that she knew how many pills to take to kill herself.
The woman decided to commit suicide rather than undergo chemotherapy, which would have given her only a 25% chance of survival, Quill said.
A Monroe County grand jury last month cleared Quill of any criminal responsibility in the woman’s death.
The state health board found that Quill’s prescribing the barbiturates was not inappropriate because “he could not know with certainty what use a patient might make of the drugs he has prescribed.”
A doctor cannot force a patient to use any prescription in one particular way, the board said. “Ultimately, these are decisions left to the patients,” it said.
Quill said he was pleased by the board’s statement. “It seemed like a very thoughtful ruling,” he said. “I’m glad that aspect is concluded.”
The board members said they were not condoning “so-called assisted suicide.”
It said Quill’s case was different from other recently publicized cases, such as that of Michigan pathologist Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who helped a patient he did not know use his “suicide machine,” and the unnamed author of a controversial 1988 article in the Journal of the American Medical Assn.
In that article, titled “It’s Over, Debbie,” a doctor wrote that he had given a lethal morphine injection to a terminal cancer patient he did not know or treat.
Unlike the doctors in those two cases, Quill had a longstanding relationship with his patient, the board said. In addition, he did not directly take part in ending her life.
“We certainly don’t want to send the signal that mercy killing by doctors is approved, because it clearly is not,” said health department spokesman Peter Slocum.