NRL News

Physician-Assisted Suicide: a threat to patients, a threat to the heart of the medical profession

by | Jan 23, 2015

By Dave Andrusko

kevorkian   When a gem such as “Dr. Death Makes a Comeback” (as in Jack Kevorkian), I am fortunate in that many pro-lifers will immediately send me a link. And so in the spirit of pay it forward, I’d like to share the link to Paul McHugh’s terrific op-ed at the Wall Street Journal, so you read it in its entirety (

The subhead of Dr. McHugh’s essay (which he didn’t write, no doubt) is, ”Legalizing physician-assisted suicide is receiving fresh support, but doctors should think twice before signing on.” But McHugh, former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, is not offering an on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand essay. Point by point, he explains why physician-assisted suicide is incredibly dangerous to patients and threatens to hollow out the noble practice of medicine.

Just a word about the first part of the op-ed, for it is something we have written about dozens of times at NRL News Today: “When a ‘right to die’ becomes settled law, soon the right translates into a duty,” McHugh writes.

And, of course, the range of people who are to “given” the “right” to assisted suicide “spreads to encompass many treatable but mentally troubled individuals, as seen today in the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland.”

That’s always been the agenda of the pro-death forces. It is just increasingly more boldly proclaimed—at least in Europe.

Then McHugh transitions into something that ought to give every physician, regardless of their stance, pause:

These intractable, recurrent drawbacks are but one side of the problematic transaction involved with assisted suicide. The other, more telling side is the way assisting in patients’ suicides hollows out the heart of the medical profession.

The fundamental premise of medicine is the vocational commitment of doctors to care for all people without doubting whether any individual is worth the effort. That means doctors will not hold back their ingenuity and energies in treating anyone, rich or poor, young or old, prominent or socially insignificant—or curable or incurable.

This is the heart and soul of medical practice. The confidence with which patients turn to their physicians depends on it, and it is what spurs doctors to find innovative ways of helping the sick.

  McHugh then asks—and answers–why the recurring arguments for physician-assisted suicide. He describes it as “sentimental medicine” against which “counterarguments based on practical, factual or vocational matters tremble.”

Please note carefully what he means and doesn’t mean by that:

Physician-assisted suicide is sentimental medicine. It’s not the sentiments that are bad; it’s the medicine—bad because when assisted suicide is legalized, the sick don’t get more choices for their care; they get fewer.

Appreciate how well Dr. McHugh cuts to the core of the issues raised for doctors by physician-assisted suicide:

Assisted suicide is the cheap and easy option for doctors, a simple, irrevocable, one-size-fits-all remedy that slights diagnostic thought, forsakes therapeutic options and crosses a time-honored barrier protecting patients from mischief.

Each patient is different! Those differences get erased in the rush to embrace the “answer” of assisted suicide.

Moreover—as many times as this is stated, it is not enough—the heart and soul of medicine is in the balance. “Time-honored”–as in time-tested–is a great description, alerting us that resistance to practicing physician-assisted suicide is a “barrier protecting patients from mischief.”

I have just touched only some of Dr. McHugh’s many insights. Please do read the essay in its entirety here.

By the way, Dr. McHugh alludes to Ian Dowbiggin’s fine 2003 book–“A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America” –which explained how “physician-assisted suicide was periodically championed in the 20th century yet rejected time after time by American voters when its practical harms were comprehended.”

  I  reviewed Dowbiggin’s book which I think might be of interest to our NRL News Today readers. See “Put Euthanasia Out of Its Misery.”

Categories: Assisted Suicide