Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Bioethicist Jacob Appel can be relied on to promote the most radical bioethics agendas, assisted suicide for the mentally ill, fetal farming, you name it.  And now he has argued that if Montana affirms a constitutional right to assisted suicide in Montana, the state has a duty to make sure that doctors are willing to do the deed.  Why?  Doctors have a monopoly on a limited commodity—the practice of medicine—and hence they should be able to be forced to participate in the taking of patients’ lives in assisted suicide. From his column:

However, it [medical license and professional autonomy] belies any claim that doctors should have the same right to choose their customers as barbers or babysitters. Much as the government has been willing to impose duties on radio stations (eg. indecency codes, equal time rules) that would be impermissible if applied to newspapers, Montana might reasonably consider requiring physicians, in return for the privilege of a medical license, to prescribe medication to the dying without regard to the patient’s intent.

This is taking the duty to die and transforming it into a duty to kill.  And it reflects a profound misunderstanding of the government’s role.  The government is not a guarantor that, for example, anyone will read this blog—which is a classic example of a citizen exercising his First Amendment right to free speech.  The government, absent a compelling interest, just can’t prevent me from writing.  Similarly, if the Montana Supreme Court goes the wrong way, Montana law won’t be able to prevent physicians from engaging in assisted suicide.  But that doesn’t mean it should be able to compel them help kill.

The culture of death, however, brooks no dissent.  Appel continues:
The right to die is not an abstract principle. This right — or its absence — has a profound effect on the fundamental welfare of nearly every individual and family in the nation during the most vulnerable moments of their lives. If the Montana Supreme Court guarantees citizens the right to aid in dying, and I am both hopeful and confident that the court will do so, then it is also incumbent upon the justices to ensure a mechanism by which patients can exercise their rights. To do otherwise — to offer a theoretical right to die that cannot be meaningfully exercised — will be both a hollow gesture and a cruel taunt to the terminally ill.

No, it is to support their intrinsic human dignity and the Hippocratic “do no harm” values of medicine. And under that theory, I should be able to have the government force everyone in the country to read this blog.

Don’t think it can’t happen here. Medicine is being quickly transformed into an order-taking technocracy.  Victoria, Australia law requires doctors to perform abortions on request or refer to a doctor who will.  Assisted suicide legislators in California tried to pass a law that would have required doctors to sedate and dehydrate terminally ill patients on demand.

Appel’s advocacy is a glimpse of a possible future in which any physician seeking to adhere to traditional Hippocratic values will be kicked out of medicine.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles