Washington D.C., Mar 12, 2007 / 05:53 am
Physician assisted suicide is contrary to the medical profession and, if legalized, would lead to more deaths among the most vulnerable members of society, warned the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) in a statement released last week.
The NCBC noted that since 1994, when Oregon passed the Death with Dignity Act legalizing physician assisted-suicide, several state legislatures have entertained similar legislative proposals. Legislative initiatives to decriminalize physician assisted-suicide are currently underway in California and Vermont.
“If such proposals become law, there will be a dramatic reversal of the healing role of medicine in society,” the organization said. “[A] medical professional has an obligation always to act in the best interest of the patient, even when the patient's own requests contradict that aim.”
The NCBC also warned against ageism and the tendency in society to equate personal dignity with the potential to contribute to society.
They warned against the risk of subtle coercion that could occur if assisted suicide were legalized. The elderly and the infirm could decide to opt for assisted suicide in order to relieve their families from the burden of care. The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized these risks as well.
The group pointed to a 1996 study published by Duke University demonstrated that while the frail elderly are strongly opposed to assisted-suicide (only 39.9% supported assisted-suicide), 59.3% of their younger relatives favored it.
The NCBC also pointed to recent events in the Netherlands, where assisted-suicide was legalized and where non-voluntary euthanasia is now performed widely, even on neonates.
Citing Pope John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae, the organization stated that “the truly humane method of caring for such members of our society is not to help them eliminate themselves, but to do all in our power to eliminate their suffering, while affirming their innate dignity and worth through the manner in which we care for them.”
In addition, the NCBC countered the argument that assisted suicide is favorable to extreme pain among the sick. “Today, there is no reason for a patient to seek death as a method to control pain,” the group said in a statement. “In fact, most persons who request physician-assisted-suicide withdraw that request if their depression and pain are treated.”