“Peggy Sutherland was ready to die,” reports Katie Moussie in her ABC News article, “Assisted Dying.” Moussie details the end-of-life journey of Sutherland as an example of the changing face of medical practice.
When we think of doctors, we think of individuals who have spent significant time, money and effort learning how to restore the body to its proper functioning. This is what we call therapeutic medicine, and for a long time it has been the common sense goal of the medical practice.
Yet, we live in an age where received knowledge is being questioned at every turn. A case in point: assisted suicide. We live in an age where the assertion of rights is proliferating rapidly, and one of the most controversial assertions is the right to a doctor’s assistance in dying. In fact, Canada has been struggling with the issue, as just last week a British Columbian Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on physician-assisted suicide. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson expressed the intentions of the government to appeal the decision. An editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal recently expressed support for physician-assisted suicide, stating “Proponents of 'dying with medical assistance' must argue that a patient’s rights invoke a corresponding medical duty to provide the means if a patient cannot, and it follows that this should be done in a safe and expert way. Hence, the act of assisting death would need to move from the context of being criminal to being part of the continuum of end-of-life care.” But this move represents a radical departure from the therapeutic ends of medicine and whatever one’s opinion, it should not be made lightly.
Doctors are apparently equally apprehensive, as Moussie reports “more than two-thirds of doctors object to physician-assisted suicide.” I understand their objection. I have always been taught the murder is defined as the unjust taking of human life. If a person doesn’t deserve to die, don’t we have a moral responsibility to not take their life, even if that person is in pain?
Perhaps I am wrong. I am not in pain, and don’t have a debilitating disease. Whatever the answer is, it falls to our generation to hash out this debate. And from the looks of things, it will only intensify.