Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Cold Reasoning of a Man Who Kills

...I know that many people disapprove of my activities. These people are convinced that no individual has the right to determine the end of his life. They are also sure that a doctor should never prescribe a medication to end life because he is professionally obliged to save life. The Hippocratic oath is what they have in mind.

We doctors today do not swear this oath and there is a reason for that — it is largely out of date...

The oath also forbids giving abortive medication to a pregnant woman. This used to be a risky matter for mothers because their pregnancies were usually well advanced before the foetus was detected. Nowadays an effective and safe drug can end a pregnancy in the early weeks without a problem. The excision of bladderstones is not immoral and the same can be said for a socially approved termination of pregnancy administered by a doctor.

When it comes to prescribing medication to a patient to help end his life, I view the Hippocratic oath in a similar way. With sodium pentobarbital, NaP, we have a drug that gives us for the first time the possibility of allowing a person to swiftly and gently pass away.

And what if there is no God?

The social rejection of suicide does not so much derive from the Hippocratic oath but rather from Christian traditions. Suicide is abhorred by all monotheistic religions. The Christian religion, which has influenced most of us, trusts to God's will in all of life's difficult moments. Only God who gave us life is entitled to take it away, runs the argument. So suicide becomes a sin. But what if this God doesn't exist? For those who do not believe, can there not be arguments for deciding the end of one's life: a life of suffering perhaps, or one blighted by increasing isolation, or the dependency on outside care?...

He needs me for that slip of paper. Is it correct to deny him the indisputably most humane means to determine the end of his life? If I do not help him, do I not play God, taking away from him the option of a gentle and, in his eyes, a rational death?...

I am a gynaecologist and as such help women to give birth. I have helped many children into this world. And I have done so gladly, it has always been an act on the borders of existence, bringing someone new to the world. But it is also part of my job to terminate pregnancies, that is to destroy something that could have led a healthy life. I have done this with less enthusiasm because the decision to end pregnancy is never taken with the knowledge of the creature whose life is about to be ended.

Now I am consciously active at another existential borderline, the voluntary exit from this world. I am not saying of course that suicide is the ideal resolution of a life. But it is just as legitimate as soldiering on to the natural end of a life. Both possibilities should exist — neither course is better than the other. And only those directly affected can decide on which way is the best for them.

If a person is determined to die, that does not mean he is mentally ill. Perhaps he simply does not believe in life after death and has drawn concrete conclusions.

Suicide is a human right. But it is vital not just to have that right but to be able to exercise it, with dignity and without using brutal methods. That can only occur with the medical prescription of Sodium Pentobarbital and with sympathetic human assistance. Suicide-help organisations make this possible.

That is why I am doing what I can to help.

Source: Dr. Alois Geiger, writing in the London Times.

(H/T: BioEdge)