Friday, April 06, 2012

Letter to the editor: the value of life must remain paramount

By Janet Grace, Executive Director, Aloha Life Advocates 
Letter to the Editor, Hawaii Reporter

In response to the demand for Physician Assisted Suicide, I would ask that we seek Truth, address tough questions, and follow the arguments to their conclusive ends. This issue affects all levels of our society and challenges our view of charity, compassion, and empathy. The individual, his doctor, the family, and society as a whole must reach a consensus on the value of life; We must identify the proper role of individual liberty and scope of medicine within those bounds.

May we consider the following:

1. We have three possible methods of treatment: No PAS, unlimited PAS, or some threshold that meets objective criteria. Assuming the third option, who would decide what levels of pain justify the termination of life? What metric of misery proves worthy of this terminal procedure? Is this a slippery slope? How long until we – as a product of our “compassion” – recommend PAS to the mentally handicapped, elderly, and disabled? We either see life as having intrinsic value or we must assign it a value based on utility. But who, again, decides the utility of an individual? If we permit the individual to decide for himself, we accept PAS limited only by demand for the product. If we demand a threshold be crossed, we are at the mercy of elected panels, boards, doctors, or bureaucrats. Inherent in this policy is the removal of choice by a governing body. 

 2. Our society is built upon the framework and promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. How, then, do we reconcile mercy killing? Under what pretense can we conflate a “right to die” with a love of life? Are all ethos and ideologies equal or compatible within the American system? Are we ready as a society to advertise the ultimate liberty as the option of self termination? If we are willing to accept the “right to die” as more important than the intrinsic value of life, we must then ask what else will qualify. Once life is no longer the most precious possession of a free man, we must necessarily struggle endlessly to define life’s final position. 

3. As a practical matter, there is no force precluding a man from taking his own life. Those prohibited from suicidal action could just as well commit suicide by inaction – not eating or refusing medical treatment. An individual in this society may – of his own free will – take his life at any time. This argument is clearly about much, much more: It is the attempt to legitimize suicide by using medical professionals. Our culture is not alone in admiring doctors and their accomplishments, but what we recognize is their adherence to a moral code. Added to their public service is a moral component: They are bound to a love of life by the Hippocratic Oath. It is that oath that earns our reverence. A doctor may do no harm and we should – as a moral society – not ask those committed to life to violate their affirmation. This is an attempt to legitimize suicide by borrowing the esteem of a noble profession. 

4. If we were to allow this termination of life, we would no doubt soon see it among our options at hospitals and clinics. How will we view those considering this option? How will we see those refusing it? Considering nearly half of us are receiving some form of public subsidy for health care, can we be assured the medical decisions made for us have our best interests in mind or will they be influenced by fiscal conservancy? Will these sick individuals be parasites? Do they have a duty to die? Should you struggle on clinging to life when a cheaper, more immediate option exists?

I present the following answers to the above mentioned questions:

It is not in the American character to value anything more precious than life itself. We may hurt and suffer, but nothing cheapens life – not lack of utility, not bleak outlook, and not our desire to end it. We cannot – if we are to remain a free society – defer life’s decisions to thresholds, metrics, and advisory boards. The value of life must remain paramount. 

We are all guaranteed a death with varying degrees of misery. This is a human condition uninterrupted throughout the millennia. Rare, however, is the people who serve life above all. Our doctors have sworn an oath to love life and care for the sick. We shouldn’t ask nor should we allow them the reduction of purveying death. Killing is not treating. Along with our devaluing of life, we will suffer great moral tragedy by forgiving them their oath.

Another day is not promised to any of us and that makes life a gift with daily affirmation. May we consider this not in terms of finance. Instead, let us view this problem in terms or treating pain and loving those without the strength to love themselves. Sick people do not have a duty to die; you and I have a duty to care. We do not value people because they are able or require fewer resources; We value them because they are our brothers and because they are alive. If our aim is compassion, let us take a stand; We must measure a man’s value not in utility or physical condition, but rather in the mere existence of life. Let our love not be misguided into treating physical pain and thereby ignoring the aching soul. We may suffer – and some of us more than others – before we die, but a greater tragedy would be to convince ourselves we are more free in death than we are as lovers of life.

No comments: