The Magazine

First, Do Harm . . .

A betrayal of the hospice movement.

Mar 19, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 26 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

As has happened in other cases in Oregon, a doctor disapproving of an assisted suicide proved a mere bump in the road. Cheney's daughter simply asked another doctor for a different opinion. The psychologist to which Cheney's HMO then sent her also expressed worries that the request "may be influenced by her family's wishes," but nevertheless recommended in favor of the assisted suicide. In the end, it didn't matter that two independent mental health professionals found familial pressure was being exerted on Cheney; she received the lethal prescription.

The AAHPM properly urges that "medical practitioners carefully scrutinize the sources of fear and suffering leading to the request" for assisted suicide "with the goal of addressing these sources without hastening death," along with practice guidelines for accomplishing these important goals. But this promotion of good medical practice rings hollow given the association's explicit neutrality on assisted suicide, which in effect grants member doctors permission to help kill their patients without threatening their good standing with the association.

Such terminal nonjudgmentalism is a profound abandonment of the organization's professed goal of promoting proper hospice care--a philosophy that unequivocally opposes assisted suicide. Perhaps more egregiously, it abandons patients--whose lives depend on ethical doctors acting energetically to relieve suffering while abiding by the Hippocratic Oath's sacred duty to "neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor . . . make a suggestion to this effect."

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, an attorney for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture.