Do No Harm

By Richard Nelson

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July 23, 2015

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Doctors are in the business of protecting life. In fact, they are bound by the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm.” What happens, though, when a doctor is asked to terminate a life? That is a question doctors across the country could be facing soon if states adopt assisted suicide legislation. Oregon passed its Death with Dignity Act in 1997. Since then, 1,327 people have legally obtained life-ending drugs, and 859 chose to actually use them. Now the question is whether physicians should be forced to dispense drugs used to kill?  Clearly, such laws set up huge ethical dilemmas for doctors who wish to practice legally but also want to adhere to the life-affirming oath they took. Induced death is the ultimate form of physical harm, even if that is the patient's wish. Twenty-five states are considering assisted suicide legislation which promotes death over compassionate care. Such laws could force doctors to choose between their conscience and following the law.

 

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Director, Commonwealth Policy Center