National Catholic Register

Opinion

Suicide Solution?

BY Alan Sears

March 5-11, 2006 Issue | Posted 3/5/06 at 10:00 AM

 

If some Oregonians had their way, doctors would get a “00” with their M.D.

In their eagerness to help each other reach the hereafter with minimal pain and fuss, Oregonians in 1998 gave their doctors a license to kill, and death advocates were hoping the recent case of Gonzales v. Oregon might inspire the U.S. Supreme Court to back their euthanasian persuasions.

Alas, the high court left the current laws stirred, but not shaken.

While the Supreme Court said federal law doesn’t stop the state’s physicians from prescribing federally regulated drugs to help suicidal patients kill themselves (despite then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft’s objections), it stopped far short of mandating murder.

Indeed, for all the media’s confused celebration, the Supreme Court’s decision doesn’t establish any new constitutional right to assisted suicide, doesn’t endorse Oregon’s law, and doesn’t keep any physicians from going to jail for giving a suffering patient a good, last chemical shove into eternity. In fact, when the Court was asked back in 1996 to legalize physician-assisted suicide, it unanimously agreed that no such constitutional “right” exists.

What the Court did say in January is that, as a majority of its justices read the text of the federal Controlled Substances Act, the government can’t keep a doctor in Oregon from legally acquiring federally-regulated narcotics, on the outside chance he might use them to finish off someone’s life.

Although some pointed out that the Controlled Substances Act authorizes federal officials to license doctors to prescribe federally-controlled narcotics for “legitimate medical purposes,” the high court apparently decided, with no trace of irony, that at least one form of murder could be classified in Oregon as “legitimate.”

As Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, explained the “reasoning”: The Controlled Substances Act was designed not to keep doctors from killing their patients, but to keep non-medical types from “illicit drug dealing and trafficking.”

In other words, selling dangerous drugs is against the law, abusing dangerous drugs is against the law, killing people is against the law … but using dangerous drugs to kill people is not against the law — if you’re a doctor in Oregon.

But it is against some higher laws, and not just the Fifth Commandment. Several other elements of the Decalogue take a pretty severe beating, as well.

Such as: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Given that the power of life and death resides with the Almighty, anyone taking upon himself the responsibility for abbreviating someone else’s destiny — however noble his intentions — is nurturing delusions of divinity.

All of us — especially licensed professionals — are vulnerable to the so-called “god complex.” But the disease is becoming epidemic in a nation where significant numbers of our judges, journalists, academics, activists and elected leaders feel confident in deciding who is expendable (the unborn, the elderly, the mentally deficient, the physically infirm) and who is not (global terrorists). For students of history, this starts to feel like “deja vu all over again.”

Assisting self-murder also violates the injunction “You shall not steal.” It’s a dangerous misconception that a suicide’s actions affect no one but himself. (Consider “suicide bombers,” the preferred media term for terrorists who immerse their immolations in martyrdom.) In fact, self-murder often inflicts a horrific, sometimes crippling blow on other people — family, friends, children — whose grief is corrupted by their loved one’s final, cruel, selfish choice.

In assisting that suicide, a physician is effectively robbing the victim’s loved ones of the very “dignity” of which advocates of euthanasia are so enamored.

But the great crime of “mercy killing” is not just that a precious life is lost and many others are wounded — but that God is mocked.

No one would say that those dying from cancer and other ravaging diseases aren’t experiencing horrific pain or that their suffering isn’t real. But those who would inflict death in the name of mercy are, in effect, claiming that they understand suffering better than the One who died on a cross, that they are more merciful than “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3, NIV), that they are a better judge of when a life is worthless or expendable than the One who created that life in the first place.

That’s a deadly arrogance, for it seeks to sever not only a soul from its body and a mind from the very heart that sustains it, but a doctor from his once-sacred Hippocratic oath. If we have reached the point as Americans where we cannot trust our doctors — or our judges or even our elected leaders — to preserve and fight tenaciously for our inalienable right to life, then the very ties that bind us as a society are in danger of coming apart.

These are the bonds that must not break. But they are the bonds most endangered, when we give our doctors a license to kill.

Alan Sears is co-author with Craig Osten

of the new book The ACLU vs. America:

Exposing the Agenda to Redefine Moral Values.