Always Care, Never Kill: The Dangers of Physician-Assisted Suicide You Need to Know

Opinion   Eric Metaxas   Mar 30, 2015   |   1:52PM    Washington, DC

It starts under the pretense of alleviating suffering, but it ends up killing the most vulnerable among us. I’m talking about physician-assisted suicide.

In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled in Vacco v. Quill that there was no constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide. Those of us here at BreakPoint recall how Chuck Colson and others breathed a sigh of relief.

But a lot has changed in 18 years. What was legally unthinkable then is oh so thinkable today. And even if the Court doesn’t reverse itself, at least eighteen states and the District of Columbia are contemplating following the lead of Oregon and several European countries, most notably the Netherlands and Belgium.

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That’s why a vitally important Heritage Foundation paper by Ryan T. Anderson is most welcome.

The title says it all, “Always Care, Never Kill: How Physician-Assisted Suicide Endangers the Weak, Corrupts Medicine, Compromises the Family, and Violates Human Dignity and Equality.”

As Anderson says, the words of the Hippocratic Oath are “an essential precept for a flourishing civil society.” Here they are:  “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.”

A society that legalizes intentionally causing the death of an innocent person cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be called “good” or “flourishing.” This is especially true when, as Anderson points out, the burden of this legalization falls disproportionately upon the weak and marginalized.

Anderson is correct when he points out that whenever physician-assisted suicide has been legalized, “safeguards purporting to minimize this risk [of killing people against their will] have proved to be inadequate and have often been watered down or eliminated over time.” Just think about what’s happening in countries like Belgium, which last year revised its law to cover children. It requires willful blindness to believe that it’s the child who will “choose” to be killed.

It requires similar willful blindness to disregard the potential impact of physician-assisted suicide on the practice of medicine. For starters, Anderson asserts that physician-assisted suicide “corrupts the profession of medicine by permitting the tools of healing to be used as techniques for killing.” In so doing, it “reduces patients’ trust of doctors and doctors’ undivided commitment to the life and health of their patients.”

Perhaps even worse, “the option of [physician-assisted suicide] would provide perverse incentives for insurance providers and the public and private financing of health care. Physician-assisted suicide offers a cheap, quick fix in a world of increasingly scarce health care resources.”

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It undermines “social solidarity and true compassion” by making it more likely that people will come to “view elderly or disabled family members as burdens” and, just as bad, having the elderly and disabled view themselves that way.

Anderson is most profoundly correct when he writes that physician-assisted suicide’s “most profound injustice is that it violates human dignity and denies equality before the law.” It tramples upon the conviction that “every human being has intrinsic dignity and immeasurable worth.”

Any decent society must treat this principle as inviolable. Any decent society should respond to illness and suffering with “compassion and solidarity,” not a lethal dose of phenobarbital.

LifeNews Note:  Eric Metaxas is best known for two biographies: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery about William Wilberforce. He also wrote books and videos for VeggieTales.