A Modest Proposal to Solve the Physician-Assisted Suicide Debate

Yesterday’s Chicago Tribune carries an editorial by Steve Chapman entitled “The Case for the ‘right to die.'” Aside from missing the central point of the whole question, Chapman does a creditable job of marshalling arguments and bioethicists to support his support for physician-assisted suicide. However, he does neglect the central point, which, of course, is that doctors do not and should not kill — including not giving patients a deadly drug with the intent that the patient will use it to kill themselves. This has been a central tenet of medical ethics ever since there were medical ethics, and for good reason. Doctors are no more able to wisely and ethically deal out death than anyone else. I write as a physician, and I can assure you that a strong background in biochemistry, pathology, pharmacology, genetics, bioethics, etc., does not give me the wisdom and ethical discernment to make the decision to intentionally provide someone with the means to intentionally kill themselves.

Thus, the dilemma: Chapman and many others think that when it comes to killing themselves, patients should be able to get whatever they want, and that doctors should help them; and most of us doctors and our various societies say that we won’t help patients get everything they want if it means they want to kill themselves.

Allow me to propose a simple, yet elegant, solution: Eliminate the middle man (or woman).

Let me explain: Chapman et al. want to help patients kill themselves, but doctors have a problematic ethical code prohibiting them from doing such. Doctors have no more expertise than anyone else at dealing out death. So, eliminate the doctors from the equation: instead of Physician-Assisted Suicide, let’s establish Newspaper Editor-Assisted Suicide. And for those bioethicists who have jumped on the bandwagon, let’s have Bioethicist-Assisted Suicide. And to make it all easier for patients who don’t have easy access to an editor or bioethicist, we can add Plumber-Assisted Suicide, Bank Teller-Assisted Suicide, or Cable TV Guy-Assisted Suicide.

The advantages of this approach should be readily apparent. Patients get what they want, doctors don’t get what they don’t want, and Chapman et al. get to carry out their good intentions unencumbered by centuries of ethical tradition, thought, and wisdom.

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Steve Phillips
6 years ago

Centuries of ethical tradition, thought and wisdom sure do get in the way of people doing what they desire. So does just about any objective moral truth.