March 7, 2016 | Commentary on Protecting Life, Health Providers and Industry

Allowing Doctors to Kill Undermines Solidarity and Corrupts Medicine

Physician-assisted suicide is often portrayed as a compassionate option for clear-thinking adults to end their lives peacefully. But the reality is much darker.

Letting doctors prescribe deadly drugs can actually encourage acts of violence, often resulting from subtle social and psychological coercion. Physician-assisted suicide fundamentally changes the doctor-patient relationship, how medicine is practiced, and how society views the poor, elderly or disabled.

This is why it's so disconcerting that so many states are considering allowing physician-assisted suicide.

Assisted suicide denies the equal worth and dignity of every human life.

Indeed, several disability-rights groups argue in a joint legal brief that "assisted suicide sets up a double standard for how health care providers, government authorities, and others respond to an individual's stated wish to die. Some people get suicide prevention while others get suicide assistance, and the difference between the two groups is the health status of the individual." How's that respecting equality? It undermines solidarity.

As for those physically or mentally unable to make an explicit request? The evidence from Europe is disconcerting. It shows that assisted-suicide quickly leads to involuntary euthanasia.

In the Netherlands, several government-sponsored surveys have disclosed that in thousands of cases, doctors have intentionally administered lethal injections to patients without their consent. In 2013, the High Court of Ireland gave voice to this sad reality: "The incidence of legally assisted death without explicit request in the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland is strikingly high."

Euthanasia also can lead to infanticide. A Netherlands commission argued in 2013 that as many as 650 infants per year should be eligible for euthanasia on the basis of the children's "poor prognosis and very poor expected quality of life." The U.N. Human Rights Committee formally condemned this: "The Committee is gravely concerned at reports that new-born handicapped infants have had their lives ended by medical personnel."

Once you go down the road of saying some lives should be eligible for assisted-suicide, the lethal logic is clear. Baroness Mary Warnock, a leading ethicist in the United Kingdom, has argued, "If you're demented, you're wasting people's lives -- your family's lives -- and you're wasting the resources of the National Health Service." Warnock went on to suggest that such people have a "duty to die."

Dr. Herbert Hendin, a leading scholar on assisted suicide, notes that a study of Dutch hospitals found that "doctors and nurses reported that more requests for euthanasia came from families than from patients themselves. The investigator concluded that the families, the doctors, and the nurses were involved in pressuring patients to request euthanasia." The legal safeguards inevitably fail.

Physician-assisted suicide offers a cheap, quick fix solution in a world of increasingly scarce health care resources.

Perhaps this is why more or less every professional medical association, including the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, and the World Health Organization, opposes assisted suicide. The AMA states: "Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician's role as healer."

Dr. Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins Hospital explains what happens when this boundary is crossed: "Once doctors agree to assist a person's suicide, ultimately they find it difficult to reject anyone who seeks their services. The killing of patients by doctors spreads to encompass many treatable but mentally troubled individuals, as seen today in the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland."

And Dr. Leon Kass of the University of Chicago elaborates on this point: "Physician-assisted suicide will pervert the medical profession by transforming the healer of human beings into a technical dispenser of death. For over two millennia the medical ethic, mindful that power to cure is also power to kill, has held as an inviolable rule, 'Doctors must not kill.'"

Human life need not be extended by every medical intervention possible, but a person should never be intentionally killed. Doctors may help their patients to die a dignified death from natural causes and should administer palliative care, but that is very different than doctors killing their patients or helping them kill themselves. This is the reality that such euphemisms as "death with dignity" and "aid in dying" seek to conceal.

Americans must insist that no one, especially a doctor, be permitted to intentionally kill, or assist in intentionally killing, an innocent neighbor.

 - Ryan T. Anderson, Ph.D., the William E. Simon senior research fellow in American Principles and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation.

 - This piece originally appeared in AracaMax

About the Author

Ryan T. Anderson, Ph.D. William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy
DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society

Originally appeared in ArcaMax