A Moral Question

Dr Paul McHugh has one, in particular concerning Vermont’s just enacted Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act, which authorizes physician-assisted suicide, and to which he objects.

As McHugh points out,

The reasons for opposing…physician-assisted suicide never went away.  The reasons have been with us since ancient Greek doctors wrote in the Hippocratic oath that “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it nor will I make a suggestion to that effect.”  The oath is a central tenet in the profession of medicine, and it has remained so for centuries.

Indeed, the reasons are both wide ranging and of long standing.  And wholly valid, for those who agree with McHugh.  However, these are all moral reasons, and morality is an arena in which government has no place, any more than it has a place dictating or preventing the exercise of religion—for it is through religion that most of us find our morals, including on the matter of suicide, physician assisted or otherwise.

Such morals are among (in the present example) the patient, those who love him (and where appropriate have control over his fate), the doctor involved, and God.  This is no place for government.

Moreover, nothing in Vermont’s law requires a doctor to participate in a patient’s suicide; the law only permits him to.  If a doctor considers such a participation to be immoral, or for any other reason he does not wish to participate, he remains free to decline.

But, but—economic pressures will force him to participate, or public opprobrium will force him to do so.  Nonsense.  Eliding, for instance, the fact that the widespread support for McHugh’s position demonstrates that opprobrium will be balanced with approbation, a doctor who allows himself to be pushed into an act he considers immoral—or allows himself to be pushed into overriding that “any other reason”—is not a victim of an absent law, but only of the weakness of his own morality.

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