The Morality of Life and Death and Doctors.

Author:Singleton, Marilyn M.

* June has been a month of reflection on life, death, our values, and the greater good. We commemorated the 75th anniversary of the 1944 Normandy invasion (D-Day), which began the liberation of France from German occupation and turned the tide of World War II. In what must have been a decision fraught with soul searching, generals sent young soldiers into what could be certain death on the shores of Normandy. Their bravery was an act of unquestionable honor.

Contrast that with a law school ethics class scenario. The leader of an invading horde tells the mayor of your town that if he lets him kill a child, he will spare the lives of the town's residents. Does the mayor sacrifice one innocent child for the good of many? On a practical level, anyone who would wantonly kill a child is not to be trusted. Morally, is the life of an innocent child reduced to a numbers game? What justifications can the mayor offer to convince the townsfolk to act like mindless, soulless, cowardly creatures and decide not to fight for the sanctity of life?

Life is precious and fleeting. Once gone, you can't get it back. This month the news has presented two ends of the spectrum: physician assisted suicide and abortion.

Years ago, people found Dr. Jack Kervorkian's "death machine" ghoulish. He likely was well-meaning but was misguided. Now physician assisted suicide is culturally acceptable and legal in several states. New Jersey is the latest state to jump on the physician-assisted suicide bandwagon that includes Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Montana. Maine's bill has made it to the governor's desk

Physician-assisted suicide (aka aid in dying or death with dignity) now has an oft-used abbreviation (PAS) to mask a deed that runs counter to the command in the Oath of Hippocrates not to harm our patients. Some reasonably argue that it is harmful to refuse to follow a patient's request to be irreversibly put out of her misery. But when does relieving pain--whether physical or emotional--transition into hastening death?

Some of these suicide laws have a requirement for counseling, but this can be merely one visit with a psychiatrist or psychologist. Moreover, the death may not be so dignified. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in the Netherlands found complications in 7 percent of assisted suicide patients, including failure to remain unconscious, extreme gasping for...

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