Thursday, August 31, 2006

Euthanasia and Oaths

Ordinary Time
Bishop Aidan of Lindisfarne

Here's another one for discussion, this time from Jesse.

I was asked by one of my undergrad professors (whom I respect greatly) a very challenging question prior to my graduation. He asked me if I were his physician and he were dying of a terminal illness, if I would ease his passage at his request with a lethal drug.

I was reminded of this the other day while skimming the Hippocratic oath posted on the wall of the med center library and I was particularly struck by the line: “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.”

At the time I told him that I felt that as a physician that it will be my job to improve quality and duration of life, and not artificially shorten it when it seems convenient. He countered that his wishes as a competent human being ought to be respected over the scruples of the doctor, who is not personally affected by his decision not to terminate life.

This begs the question, when would it NOT be appropriate to shorten someone’s life? Certainly we shouldn’t when depressed, angst-ridden 15-year-old boys are dumped by their girlfriends and sing emo songs wishing for death. They clearly aren’t competent to make such a decision. Or are they?

I stand by my answer to my professor. I still feel that my job will be to improve life, not terminate it, and I feel that being able to do both creates a conflict of interest in a physician dealing with any patient in pain. However, I do not feel that any and all means ought to be applied to extend life beyond its natural duration. Technology has given us the power almost to live indefinitely at huge cost to society, and I think that there comes a time when the caring physician should withhold his hand and allow death to overcome the patient. After all, medicine cannot and should not bring everlasting life; Jesus will do that.

What do you think? Do you think you should have the right to end your life when the end seems close anyway? Do you think the doctor has an obligation to help you to this end?


JHearne said...

I tend to waver on this one becuase I can see the merits of both sides of the argument. As of recently, I tend to rest somewhere near Jesse's thoughts on this.

My most recent pressing concern on the euthanasia issue is how pragmatic most of the reasoning concerned with it goes. I reason that it's okay to die soon because I'm close to death, anyway? Seems dreadfully consequentialist to me. Why should the ends justify the means?

#Debi said...

So the question was "if I would ease his passage at his request with a lethal drug."

I think that, in my position as armchair quarterback, as it were, I would say that I could not actively kill him. But what I could do, since I felt that my mission was to improve quality of life, would be to administer a strong sedative at the point of death, to ease any physical pain associated with the passing. Not enough to cause death, but maybe one of those medically-induced comas that we hear so much of these days. Anything that would, in fact, ease his passage without actually causing it is acceptable in my book.

Anonymous said...

"In the 21st century the distinguishing mark of Christians will be not killing their babies or killing their old people."


Anonymous said...

My philosophy is make it as painless as possible without causing it. I wouldn't put the guy in a coma, though.

Kyle said...

I think the doctors should refrain from locking me up in order to keep me from taking my life, were I to be terminally and painfully ill.

Just because we can prolong biological functions with advancing technology doesn't mean we should. I've seen too many zombie movies not to be bothered by that stuff...!