Wednesday, May 01, 2002


Wesley Smith condemns Oregon's assisted sucide law in the National Review. I disagree:

Wesley Smith does a good job of attacking the straw man: the admittedly ludicrous fiction that assisting suicide is practicing medicine in the Hippocratic sense.

However, there could be good reasons to require such (if we are going to allow assisted suicide) be done by doctors, and not relatives.

Presumably doctors would be better able to insure a painless, successful (in the sense that the patient dies as he intends) process.

Doctors also could be more qualified to advise the patient of less drastic ways to relieve their suffering/improve their quality of life and thus possibly prevent suicides.

Requiring someone in the process who neither is emotionally involved with nor a potential beneficiary of the death, as opposed to spouses, children, etc., certainly promotes the interest of making sure that the suicide is desired by the patient.

All of which still begs the question, should we allow assisted suicide at all?

What about this? There is no enforceable penalty for the physically capable person who kills himself. Absent assisted suicide, people with debilitating illnesses might well punch the clock prematurely, rushing to act before they became helpless to do so. Thus, the availability of assisted suicide might well extend some lives.

Fundamentally, why is it the government's business if someone wants to off himself? It seems requiring one to stay alive against his wishes is the ultimate denial of liberty. Again, a prohibition against assisted suicide only affects those too weak to do it themselves. Is this fair?

Moreover, under what twisted abandonment of federalism is it the United States' right to tell Oregon that, pursuant to a law adopted by its legislature, its citizens may not have help taking their own lives? What conceivably constitutional federal statute could bar that law? And if the answer to that is "none", how obscene is it for the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, the Attorney General, to subvert the Constitution by the backdoor stunt of taking away the drug-prescribing privileges of physicians who dare act in accordance with a clearly enforceable law, just because he doesn't like it?

I've not addressed the enormous and troubling practical problems with legalizing assisted suicide, most of which boil down to making sure it's the patient's competent wish to end his life. That's a whole other discussion.

What I am most interested in is in making sure that even zealots like Wesley Smith realize they don't have an exclusive claim to the moral high ground on this issue. There is another principled side to this debate. Where one comes down on the issue is truly a matter of conscience. And in America, matters of conscience rightly are decided by each individual for himself.

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