Role contradictions for doctors: to bring health or death to a patient?

Picture2.jpgWhen it comes to assisted suicide, we should be concerned about the effect it will have upon the role of the doctors that serve us. Without assisted suicide in the picture, the doctor’s role is to ensure that everything in his or her power is done to preserve the health and life of the patient. However, when assisted suicide is introduced, it confuses the role of the doctor.

How does the doctor decide when his objective is to preserve his patient’s life or to end it?

As professor Gerard T. Mundy recently stated:

Consider the following analogy. It is both illogical and impossible for a runner to aim simultaneously to win a marathon and to lose a marathon. One’s actions must be in accord with one’s willed end. If the runner wants to win the marathon, he will choose to run well; if he does not want to win, he will choose to run poorly. He cannot choose both of those ends at once.

Nor can the physician serve two ends simultaneously. He cannot truly and wholeheartedly work toward bringing his patient to health if he can choose at any time to give up that pursuit and suggest rather that the patient choose death instead. The two ends—to bring health to the patient or to bring death to the patient—are in opposition.

 Physicians are not all-knowing; even the best estimate of a person’s remaining time and quality of life is just that- an estimate. We only have to look to the case of Jeannette Hall, a woman who was diagnosed with cancer and given six months to a year to live. She contemplated assisted suicide since it was legal in her home state of Oregon, but her doctor advised against it. She is still alive, having lived for fifteen years after the diagnosis.

And that is what doctors are there for- to encourage their patients to fight, and to equip them with all the tools they need. Yes, they also should help alleviate suffering – but to enable their patients to have a better quality of life, not so they can end it.

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