October 27, 2012
A Right or a Wrong?
Rapid and dramatic developments in medicine and technology have given us the power to save more lives than was ever possible in the past. Medicine has put at our disposal the means to cure or to reduce the suffering of people afflicted with diseases that were once fatal or painful. At the same time, however, medical technology has given us the power to sustain the lives (or, some would say, prolong the deaths) of patients whose physical and mental capabilities cannot be restored, whose degenerating conditions cannot be reversed, and whose pain cannot be eliminated. As medicine struggles to pull more and more people away from the edge of death, the plea that tortured, deteriorated lives be mercifully ended grows louder and more frequent. Under present law, suicide is not a crime, but assisting in suicide is. Whether or not we as a society should pass laws sanctioning "assisted suicide" has generated intense moral controversy.
Supporters of legislation legalizing assisted suicide claim that all persons have a moral right to choose freely what they will do with their lives as long as they inflict no harm on others. This right of free choice includes the right to end one's life when we choose. For most people, the right to end one's life is a right they can easily exercise. But, there are many who want to die, but whose disease, handicap, or condition renders them unable to end their lives in a dignified manner. When such people ask for assistance in exercising their right to die, their wishes should be respected. Furthermore, it is argued, we ourselves have an obligation to relieve the suffering of our fellow human beings and to respect their dignity. Lying in our hospitals today are people afflicted with excruciatingly painful and terminal conditions and diseases that have left them permanently incapable of functioning in any dignified human fashion. They can only look...