When MDs become administrators of death

Until euthanasia and assisted suicide were added to our lexicon, intentionally killing another human was condemned. Now it is deemed “considerate,” in warped, biased media portrayals.

Take for example an article from the New York Times about an occurrence in Canada, which legalised assisted suicide in 2016. The story recounted the events of a dying man’s “euthanasia party”, which culminated in his lethal injection in front of the participants – his friends and family. Replete with poetic overtures about the family’s experience together, the paper quoted the doctor as saying:

“I’m coming here and John will be dead, so I guess technically I’m killing John. But that’s not how I think of it.”

In another story, assisted suicide physician Dr Lonny Shavelson is painted as exemplary. Dr Shavelson is reported to collect copious evidence including reams of paperwork and even athletic history to ensure that patients die when they want to without any complications. Under euthanasia and assisted suicide, intentionally plotting another human’s death is both accepted and lauded.

Additionally, euthanasia and assisted suicide require MDs to turn from their practice’s true purpose: to improve, to care for, and to study the complexities of living, not ending lives. Bioethicist Wesley Smith wrote in The National Review that “the worst MDs can become death prescribers.” Smith disputed the story praising Dr Shavelson:

“[The author] points to Lonnie Shavelson as the epitome of committed death doctors that society should trust to do assisted suicide right.

She describes Shavelson as an emergency room and primary care doctor. That overstates his credentials. For most of his medical career, Shavelson was a part time, contract ER doc. He also did some health clinic work for poor immigrants.

But he is not a board certified specialist in providing ongoing care for cancer patients, kidney disease patients, diabetics, or indeed, other serious conditions. Indeed, until California legalized assisted suicide, he was mostly out of medicine, pursuing a career as a photo journalist and author. He certainly isn’t a specialist in caring for dying patients. He’s no hospice doc.”

The prospect that such ethically controversial procedures are told in this way is unsurprising. One must look beyond the headlines to see the ethical questions that underpin this heated issue.

As Smith put it:

“Assisted suicide corrupts everything it touches–most especially the profession of medicine.”

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are not the answers. We have recognised plotted, meaningful taking of another person’s life as wrong for millennia. We recognise suicide as a tragic event. Why would we legalise either of these under a different name?

Australia should heed the rise of euthanasia across the globe and learn from the mistakes of other countries. Like Canada and the US, we will get more than we bargained for: we won’t get ‘safe-guarded options’ for dying. We will get legislation protecting someone else’s ‘right’ to kill us.


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