First Things, August/September 1996.
Recent efforts to legalize physician-assisted suicide and to establish a constitutional “right to die” are deeply troubling events, morally dubious in themselves, extremely dangerous in their likely consequences. The legalization of physician-assisted suicide, ostensibly a measure enhancing the freedom of dying patients, is in fact a deadly license for physicians to prescribe death, free from outside scrutiny and immune from possible prosecution. The manufacture of a “right to die,” ostensibly a gift to those not dying fast enough, is, in fact, the state’s abdication of its duty to protect innocent life and its abandonment especially of the old, the weak, and the poor.
The legalization of physician-assisted suicide will pervert the medical profession by transforming the healer of human beings into a technical dispenser of death. For over two millennia the medical ethic, mindful that power to cure is also power to kill, has held as an inviolable rule, “Doctors must not kill.” The venerable Hippocratic Oath clearly rules out physician-assisted suicide. Without this taboo, medicine ceases to be a trustworthy and ethical profession; without it, all of us will suffer—yes, more than we suffer now because some of us die too slowly.