California’s yearlong legislative debate over the right to die culminated Monday with Governor Jerry Brown signing into law a bill making California the fifth state to permit physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill.
Groups like Not Dead Yet and Californians Against Assisted Suicide had joined the Catholic Church in opposing the legislation, arguing that it would place pressure on the ill and disabled to end their lives rather than run up large health insurance bills.
Oregon became the first state to legalize assisted suicide for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in 1994, followed by Washington and Vermont. The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that physicians may prescribe lethal drugs to the competent terminally ill
17 other states are considering similar legislation.
The merciful thing would be to expect doctors to do no harm and ease the pain of those who suffer and support families and ministries in providing that care.
Indeed, that was the message of Sen. Ted Kennedy’s widow as she campaigned against physician-assisted suicide in Massachusetts in 2012. Victoria Reggie Kennedy pointed out that most people wish for a good death “surrounded by loved ones, perhaps with a doctor and/or clergyman at our bedside.” But with physician-assisted suicide, “what you get instead is a prescription for up to 100 capsules, dispensed by a pharmacist, taken without medical supervision, followed by death, perhaps alone. That seems harsh and extreme to me.”
The Hippocratic Oath proclaims: “I will keep [the sick] from harm and injustice. I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.” This is an essential precept for a flourishing civil society. No one, especially a doctor, should be permitted to kill intentionally, or assist in killing intentionally, an innocent neighbor.
With physician-assisted suicide, a doctor prescribes the deadly drug, but the patient must take the drug himself.
As explained in The Heritage Foundation Backgrounder “Always Care, Never Kill,” physician-assisted suicide is bad policy for four reasons:
Physician-assisted suicide endangers the weak and marginalized in society.
Physician-assisted suicide changes the culture in which medicine is practiced. It corrupts the profession of medicine by permitting the tools of healing to be used as techniques for killing
Physician-assisted suicide would harm our entire culture, especially our family and intergenerational obligations. The temptation to view elderly or disabled family members as burdens will increase, as will the temptation for those family members to internalize this attitude and view themselves as burdens. Physician-assisted suicide undermines social solidarity and true compassion.
Physician-assisted suicide’s most profound injustice is that it violates human dignity and denies equality before the law. Every human being has intrinsic dignity and immeasurable worth. For our legal system to be coherent and just, the law must respect this dignity in everyone. It does so by taking all reasonable steps to prevent the innocent, of any age or condition, from being devalued and killed.