Physician-assisted suicide has been regarded by some as a logical adjunct to treatment of the terminally ill. It is becoming fairly widely accepted on the basis that it relieves suffering and empowers the patient to facilitate that relief. However, these arguments gloss over the true foundational issue underlying physician-assisted suicide: complicity to render an unethical practice acceptable by cloaking it in the guise of mercy.
Brody and Miller (1995) state categorically, ôIf medicine is essentially a healing enterprise, then physicians should never help patients die.ö They reference Leon Kass, whose position is that ôthe essence of medicineùits inner normative meaning and purposeùis healing, which physician-assisted death contravenes.ö If the goal of medicine is to heal, then physician-assisted suicide not only mitigates against that goal; it defeats it. Although ôFirst Do No Harmö is not actually in the Hippocratic Oath as generally believed, it is still the basic premise that medical practice must be constrained to observe. Even the Code of Ethics for Nurses (Code of Ethics for Nurses) states as one of its principles ôThe nurse promotes, advocates for, and strives to protect the health, safety, and rights of the patient.ö
Ministering to the patientÆs needs and being sensitive to patient fears, feelings, and distress are admirable undertakings on the part of the physician. However, the physician should not allow any patientÆs feelings and desires to derail his integrity or his purpose as a physician, no matter how compelling. It is wrong to assume that just because a physician can be persuaded to perform a particular action, it is automatically rendered ethically acceptable.
Tania Salem (1999) clarifies this issue even further, explaining that physician-assisted suicide and voluntary active euthanasia are viewed as ôparadigmatic expressions of patientsÆ autonomyö and that they are