Scott Tibbs
Published in Hoosier Review, 12-14-1998

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Assisted suicide cheapens life

Thanks to Jack Kevorkian, the issue of assisted suicide is in the news again. But Kevorkian's "helping" of his most recent patient, shown on tape on the CBS program 60 Minutes, has gone beyond assisted suicide into the realm of euthanasia. While Kevorkian had previously only provided the mechanism where people could end their own life, this time Kevorkian actively killed his patient.

I believe the proponents of assisted suicide would do well to condemn Jack Kevorkian. This is a sick individual. He has shown himself to have an undue obsession with death, and his paintings are a macabre homage to death. There are many people who feel that the only way to relieve someone of pain is to end their lives, and proceed with such action in a compassionate, reverent manner that shows respect for the dead and dying. I believe that Kevorkian has shown himself to be void of such respect. In addition, some of Kevorkian's patients have not been terminally ill, but rather chronically ill.

The issues of assisted suicide and euthanasia raise disturbing questions for medical care in America. As most people know, the most basic tenet of the medical profession is "do no harm." Kevorkian, by providing the means for people to end their own lives, and now by actually killing someone himself, has violated this important doctrine. The medical profession should have two main goals. The first goal should be to preserve life. If that is not possible, then the suffering of the patient should be minimized while he is alive.

The two goals are not mutually exclusive. We have powerful pain medication and ways of controlling physical discomfort. It is possible to keep people as physically comfortable as possible in their last days without resorting to killing them. True, not all pain can be relieved. But life is too precious to end prematurely. We must show respect for life, and not allow people like Kevorkian to snuff out people's lives.

This is not to say terminally ill people should be forced to endure treatments for a disease that are in may cases more devastating than the disease itself. In some cases, chemotherapy can cause a terminal cancer patient to die faster than he would otherwise die, and it drastically reduces quality of life while the person is alive. Nobody should be forced to undergo harsh treatments for a terminal or chronic illness if they do not wish to subject themselves to it. However, deciding not to take chemotherapy or some of the harsh drugs used to treat AIDS is different from willful, intentional termination of someone's life. Nor should someone be denied medication to relieve pain because that medication might hasten death. People have a right to be comfortable as they die, and sometimes medication such as morphine is required to relieve pain. However, administering medication to relieve pain that might have the side effect of hastening death is different from willful, intentional killing and the two cannot be confused.

In addition, once we begin to allow the premature termination of someone's life for reasons of physical pain, how long will it be until we allow termination of life for mental pain? Many people who are depressed feel there is no hope and no reason to live. In many cases, mental anguish can be just as devastating to someone's life as crippling physical pain. If we allow for premature termination of life for the reason of physical pain, would it not be inconsistent to allow for termination of life for mental pain?

Legalized assisted suicide also offers the possibility of killing a patient who does not necessarily want to die. As medical bills pile up, a terminally or even chronically ill person may begin to feel he has a duty to end his own life to spare his family both the mental anguish of watching him die and the financial strain that expensive treatments place on the person's family.

Life is a precious gift, the most important thing we have. We must not end it prematurely. The medical profession should preserve life, not end it. Tragically, we have begun to move in a direction giving the medical profession power to choose life over death that no person should have, and that is frightening.