George A. Sprecace M.D., J.D., F.A.C.P. and Allergy Associates of New London, P.C.

Point and Counterpoint: Abortion and Alternatives - Article 12, for Sunday, June 25, 2006

Euthanasia – Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS)

Euthanasia comes from the Greek, a contraction of two words meaning good and death.  It is defined by The American Heritage Dictionary as the action of killing an individual for reasons considered to be merciful.  Historically in western democracies it has been illegal to assist in suicide because of the paramount value placed on human life by our culture.  Our constitution speaks of the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. And if one did not have the right to life, all other rights would be meaningless for we would have no right to exist.  The Supreme Court in a 9-0 unanimous decision in 1997 said that they could find no right to physician assisted suicide in the constitution.  However, they did not say that it was necessarily unconstitutional for physicians to assist in suicides.  But the American Medical Association (AMA) is against the use of physicians in euthanasia and PAS because they feel it is contrary to their role as healers and would undermine the trust of the doctor-patient relationship.  In an amicus brief filed by the AMA, it stated, “There is, in short, compelling evidence of the need to ensure that all patients have access to quality palliative care, but not of any need for physician-assisted suicide…”  The AMA is also against the use of physicians as executioners in states where death by lethal injection is the form of capital punishment.

Euthanasia and PAS are illegal in most countries and the position of almost all national medical societies is against both.  However, there is no scarcity of organizations advocating euthanasia and PAS, e.g., The Hemlock Society, Compassion in Dying, Gentle Closures, Caring Friends, Death with Dignity, Choice in Dying, et al.  There are so many that there is a World Federation of Right to Die Societies which has international conferences at which ideal methods of suicide, new death devices and plans for euthanasia clinics are discussed.  The parallels between the establishment of the “right” to abortion and the attempts to establish a right to die legalizing euthanasia and PAS are frightening.  The terms of their rhetoric are warm and embracing – self deliverance instead of suicide, compassion, gentle closure, caring friends, dignity, choice.   They are clever and have learned well from the abortion campaigns!  They are positioning the Catholic Church and Rome as the tyrants against their “reasonable and compassionate” cause.  They are purporting it to be a religious issue whereas it is a cultural issue.  The fact is that the opponents of euthanasia and PAS are not people united in a common religion, but people united in their cultural and societal tenets of respect for human dignity and the paramount value of human life; they are atheists, agnostics, humanists and peoples of all faiths.  Today the proponents use the hard cases of severe pain and terminal illness as justification, in time could come “The Release of the Destruction of Life Devoid of Value” which was the justification for the gas chambers of the Nazi regime.  More to come.

Peter Moore, PhD    George A. Sprecace, M.D., J.D.

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