Physician assisted suicide is oxymoronic and wrong (Opinion)
Update: I wrote this in February of this year. Now, in August, New Jersey's 'right to die' law is underway. I understand this is a sensitive issue. (Is there a more personal one?) In the months since I wrote this I have not changed my point of view, not even with the passing of my beloved father-in-law. He was diagnosed in March with stage IV lung cancer and he was gone on Memorial Day. He lost far too much weight, was delirious at times, dealt with pain. Yet I never saw a more dignified man in my life. He died with more dignity than most will ever know, and he cherished the times he was able to see his grandchildren during his decline. I respect the views of those in favor of this new law, and I respectfully disagree.
The legislation is called Medical Aid In Dying For The Terminally Ill. Make no mistake of semantics. It is physicians helping people commit suicide. It would allow terminally ill patients diagnosed with no more than 6 months to live to obtain a lethal prescription from a doctor to kill themselves.
You can read the particulars in the full bill here. They try to put safeguards in, like having a second physician sign off on it, have witnesses, have at least 15 days separating two individual requests by the patient, etcetera.
Here's one of many reasons why this is a mistake. This is in direct violation of the very oath doctors are sworn by. The Hippocratic Oath all physicians are bound by starts off with the words first do no harm. There is no accident to that. Those words don't simply mean "try your best not to screw up." There is a deep medical ethics code to the oath and those words begin it. Embodied in the code is the concept of non-malificence. The Latin, primum non nocere, or "first, do no harm." It's there for a reason. It is balanced against the principle of beneficence, doing good. Physician assisted suicide goes against the very fabric of beneficence.
Doctors should manage pain. Doctors should be, and are, allowed to withhold lifesaving measures and even food and water to hasten death. However inducing death is very different from letting nature have its course. Let's look at the very phrase "physician assisted suicide." It's an oxymoron. It contradicts itself. It's not true suicide if someone is putting the pill in your hand to do it.
Most states do not allow this. Only a handful do. Whereas states like Louisiana specifically make it a criminal act to even give someone the advice how to end their life let alone give them the means by which to do it. Either is a criminal act there comparable to manslaughter.
Before you excoriate me for "having no heart" or "must have never seen suffering," I do and I've seen plenty. My grandmother died at 61 of multiple myeloma and I watched her slip away. My father died at 62 of glioblastoma multiforme, the exact type of brain cancer that killed Senator John McCain. I've seen many others. The cry that people in these situations die without dignity infuriates me. There's nothing more dignified than facing horror and pain and still seeking out small moments of goodness in a given day. Dignity is about the human spirit, not about bodily functions.
The late Dr. Jack Kevorkian who brought this issue to the forefront in the 90's didn't stop at just the terminally ill. He helped people kill themselves simply over quality of life issues. Several quadriplegics, someone with chronic fatigue syndrome (which my mother has had for decades and is turning 80 now) and someone with fibromyalgia. If the very godfather of assisted suicide believed in helping people kill themselves who were not even terminally ill how long will it be in states where this is legal before the patient list is modified to reflect the same?
This is a highly sensitive issue, but I must come down firmly on the side of first do no harm. If New Jersey passes this suicide bill then the Hippocratic Oath becomes the Hypocritic Oath.
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