Editorial by John Ziegler

Give Me Liberty or Death; Why Not Both?

8/8/2001

This week in Philadelphia, the cradle of freedom and home of the Liberty Bell, yet another blow was struck against the very basic principles upon which this nation was founded. The American College of Physicians, this country's second-largest medical organization, officially came out against physician-assisted suicide. Thus continues the reversal of the tide of pro-assisted suicide momentum, which crested several years ago when the people of Oregon passed a law that allowed some of its citizens to determine when and how they might die. Now, with his own legal "nine lives" having evaporated, Jack "Dr. Death" Kevorkian is wasting away in prison, and nearly every major medical association has come out strongly against the controversial practice.

"We must solve the problems of inadequate care at the end of life, not avoid them through practices such as assisted suicide," said Dr. Daneil Sulmasy, author of the Philadelphia-based group's opinion. According to Sulmasy, assisted suicide would damage the patient-physician relationship, jeopardize the medical profession's role of healing, and lessen the value placed on life. The group does add, however, that it strongly supports the patient's right to refuse or halt treatment.

So let me get this straight. We live in a country created upon the concept of individual freedom, and where it is acceptable for doctors to end the lives of the unborn and those who have been convicted of heinous crimes, but where it is not okay for an adult in excruciating pain to be able to choose that option while having a doctor help to end their suffering?

Exactly how would physician assisted suicide damage the patient-physician relationship? Last time I checked, unless you are including the completely speculative possibility of an afterlife, the relationship would pretty much end as soon as the procedure was successful. To say that the idea of a doctor relieving someone of pain in any way jeopardizes the profession's role in healing is to be in abject denial of one of the most basic of all human realities: we will all die eventually. Don't they teach that part in medical school?

For these doctors to also say (in the ultimate attempt to have it both ways) that they support the right of the patient to end or refuse treatment is, at best, ridiculous and seemingly selfish and insincere. What they seem to be saying is that it is all right for the patient in irreversible pain to choose death, it is just not acceptable for the "healer" to make sure that they are as comfortable and dignified as possible during that process. Gee, THAT makes a lot of sense. I hope these doctors feel good about themselves because they have "kept" their oath to "do no harm" as they watch those who decide to forgo formal medical care meet a needlessly agonizing demise.

It seems to me a great shame that everyone involved in this issue is so fearful, insecure, and self-centered that we are not able to deal maturely and logically with one of life's most important and defining moments. It may be more convenient to try to ignore this unpleasant issue, but I believe that things could be dramatically improved in this area if we just showed a little bit of honesty and courage.

What would be so horrible about living in a society where people actually had some control over when and how they died? For those that believe that there may be some sort of natural plan for their death or potential repercussions for circumventing this plot, no one would force them to do anything they didn't want to do. But those who believe in such speculative worldviews should not hinder and infringe upon the freedom of others who simply recognize that death is inevitable and wish end their lives with as little discomfort (not to mention expense to their heirs and to the health care system) as possible.

One of the worst aspects of the death penalty (in the counter-productive, politically correct manner in which it is administered in this country) is that it gives the absolute worst among us the benefit of knowing exactly when they are going to die and allows them to do so is a relatively painless manner. There is no reason that law-abiding citizens should not have this same opportunity. In fact, since those that took advantage of this assistance would also indirectly be saving the social security and health care systems a significant amount of money, I believe that it would be perfectly reasonable for the government to strictly regulate this process and provide a small stipend for those who were qualified for and chose to enter this "program." This would grant those who wanted to the ability to throw and attend a celebration of their lives and say goodbye to their loved ones in a suitable fashion. In a way, my plan (which will obviously never be adopted because it would actually require us to tackle a problem head on) would give some of us the ultimate privilege of attending our own funeral.

Wouldn't that be a much better way to go than to suffer endlessly with the final memories of your life being that of a sad and virtually unrecognizable being? To me, it all makes legal, logical and moral sense, and in this land of liberty where our population is rapidly aging and technology's ability to keep us alive is quickly surpassing our willingness to live, the trend should be towards some humane form of physician-assisted suicide and not away from it.

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