Physician Assisted Suicide : The Time Should Never Come
AUTHORIZATION TO ALLOW CERTAIN PERSONS TO USE MEDICATION TO END THEIR LIFE IN A HUMANE AND DIGNIFIED WAY
Do you approve allowing an adult who is able to make health care decisions and has a terminal disease that will cause death within six months to use a prescribed drug to end his life in a humane and dignified way?
The bill authorizes safeguards to ensure that the decision by the individual requesting the life-ending overdose is freely made and the drug is self-administered. While I am sure there are many specifics in the bill to be critiqued by attorneys, the issue of physician-assisted suicide merits discussion on its own moral footing.
The Catholic Church has consistently spoken out against physician-assisted suicide (PAS) and its cousin, euthanasia. The arguments against legalizing PAS range from the secular to the sacred:
1) Physician assisted suicide is a contradiction in terms. Physicians are obliged to cure and ameliorate disease when possible and in the context of hospice care, to always ease suffering. There is an intrinsic code of medical ethics against ending life which cannot be violated, or permitted even with the patient’s request. In our day of individual empowerment, this assertion is not warmly received. Our culture rejects any absolute moral norms. Patient autonomy, one of the cornerstones of medical ethics in this country, can be wrongly taken to mean blindly conforming to the patient’s wishes as long as consent is informed and freely given.
2) Legalized physician assisted suicide is bad public policy. Economic factors weigh heavily on all modern medical decisions and the pressure on the terminally ill to end their lives is not alleviated by simply declaring that physician assisted death is entirely voluntary. Our lives should not be expendable once a physician determines it might only last six more months. The evidence from Washington state that highly educated, white citizens are primarily the ones choosing physician assisted suicide only strengthens the argument that the most vulnerable in society distrust the potential abuse to which it might be put.
3) Having complete control over one’s life is a modern illusion which death itself destroys. The Catholic Church teaches that our lives come from God and we are stewards, but not ultimate masters of our human existence. When physician-assisted suicide was first approved in Oregon, fear of unremitting pain and of being kept alive involuntarily by extraordinary means motivated some to approve its legalization. Hospice care, advance directives and health care proxy have alleviated some of that anxiety. Patient’s requesting physician assisted suicide in Oregon and Washington cite “having control” over their deaths as the primary reason for making the request.