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    Tuesday, January 17, 2006

    Oregon's Assisted Suicide

    Well, I have to admit I'm not surprised but I am depressed. That the US Supreme Court would uphold Oregon's law on assisted suicides is indicative of the legal state and moral state of America today.

    It should be enough that all doctors must take the hippocratic oath. As a future doctor, I have read this oath many times and take it very seriously. The oath has two versions, which must be explained.

    The original version separated doctors and surgeons. There is a section that says "I will not use the knife, even on sufferers of stones" and it is referring to surgeons and bowl problems. In it, the oath says
    I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.

    This very clearly prohibits doctors prescribing medicine that will kill or abortions--two hot button issues today.

    In the modern version, written by Louis Lasagna at Tufts Medical School and often used today, says,
    I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
    And so you see that things have become more muddled. We are supposed to treat with care matters of life and death, but it does not explicitly prohibit taking a life.

    What it does do, and what we do not do, is stress the importance of trying to save lives. Yes, many doctors would be offended by that statement, because they do try to save lives. But in the situation at hand, too many people are passing the buck, dishing responsibility on someone else, giving up. Nowhere was a doctor prohibited from giving medicine to dull pain. However, medicine to kill implies a giving up, and opens the door for greater, egregious, violations of what is seen as mercy for people with 6 months left to live.

    How much good can be done with 6 months? How many times have things changed? I have a coworker who's uncle recently passed away--fifteen years after doctors gave him two months to live. What a loss if he had been given medicine to end it and taken them. Gone would be 15 years he spent with his wife and kids, blessing the lives of others.

    Medicine is an art for a reason. There is unpredictability. There is variability. There are miracles. Give painkillers if you're merciful, but do not end lives. You take something away from all of us.

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