Another Cloud on the Moral Horizon: Assisted Suicide

Opinion   Rev. John A. Leies, S.M.   Sep 25, 2012   |   8:03PM    Washington, DC

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. We have all heard that adage. It is a true one, especially in regard to moral threats to society. For a long time we have been warned of the dangers of abortion in our country.

We are also quite aware of the movement to legalize same-sex marriage. But now another cloud looms on the moral horizon — assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Oregon legalized assisted suicide by popular vote in 1997, and in 2009 the State of Washington followed. Efforts to do the same were first undertaken in California but they were rejected by the voters. Montana legalized assisted suicide in 2009 through the decision of a court.

When discussion was taking place concerning this issue in California and Oregon (in the mid 1990’s), many commentators said that assisted suicide – i.e., the prescribing of a lethal potion for a patient – would naturally lead to “euthanasia,” or the actual killing of a patient through injection of chemicals by a doctor.

The argument was that some patients who received a lethal prescription would not be able to administer it to themselves because they were too weak or were unable to move. Someone else would be needed to administer the fatal drug otherwise the patient would be unable to have the legal benefit to which he or she was entitled.

Actually that prediction did not come about — at least not yet. But it may be before us soon. A recent article in Zenit News by Denise J. Hunnell, M.D., alerts us to some disturbing trends.

First of all, among doctors a new ethical model is being practiced. Physicians are putting the “greater good” of society above individual patients.

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The increasing numbers of articles in medical journals calling for assisted suicide and euthanasia is evidence of this trend. In June of this year, the British Medical Journal ran articles endorsing both assisted suicide and euthanasia, declaring that physicians who do not respect the autonomy of patients to receive these procedures are guilty of paternalism. Another article proposed that the decision for such procedures is a “society” questions not a medical one. In addition a recent claim was made by a British physician that the British National Health Service kills 130,000 patients a year by denying them water and nutrition. The government ought to recognize that this is just another form of euthanasia.

Here in the states, the July issue of the New England Journal of Medicine contained an article recommending that all patients who fulfill the legal criteria for assisted suicide in Oregon and Washington should be able to obtain lethal drugs without a prescription. And the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) recently endorsed a book by two physicians advocating that the medical profession should reject the principle that a physician should never cause the death of a patient and the principle that people ought to be dead before organs are harvested from them.

The appearance of multiple articles in mainstream medical journals advocating killing is disturbing. Now is the time to clearly denounce such positions before they become acceptable.

LifeNews Note:  Father John A. Leies, SM, STD, is a Contributing Writer of HLI America. He is president emeritus of St. Mary’s University and formerly served as head of the Theology Department there. A version of this article originally appeared in Today’s Catholic, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of San Antonio.