In the fourth century before Christ, a pagan physician wrote an oath that has been held in high esteem and pledged by graduating medical students for nearly 2,500 years.
Hippocrates wrote, "I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion. With purity and with holiness I will pass my life and practice my Art."
Hippocrates rightly discerned that the art of medicine which seeks to heal and protect life can't participate in killing it. Whether one uses a popular euphemism such as choice, compassion, or death with dignity, the end result is still killing. Not only does a physician pledge not to give a deadly medicine, but refuses to even suggest this as an option for treatment.
What did Hippocrates know that has been dismissed in the 20th and 21st centuries? He understood the dignity and sanctity of every human life and that the practice of medicine must mirror that truth.
For those who support euthanasia and assisted suicide, it is prudent to examine what has happened in other countries that have adopted such policies.
In 2001, the Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia. Theo Boer is an ethicist who as a member of a Euthanasia Review Committee oversaw more than 4,000 euthanasia cases in the Netherlands.
He recently wrote: "I used to be a supporter of legislation. But now, with 12 years of experience, I take a different view. At the very least, wait for an honest and intellectually satisfying analysis of the reasons behind the explosive increase in the numbers. Is it because the law should have had better safeguards? Or is it because the mere existence of such a law is an invitation to see assisted suicide and euthanasia as a normality instead of a last resort? Before those questions are answered, don't go there. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it is not likely to ever go back in again."
He goes on to say that euthanasia is being granted to people who have years to live.
In 2008, two cancer patients in Oregon (the state where Brittany Maynard moved in order to receive physician-assisted suicide) were refused coverage by their Oregon Medicaid insurance for prescribed chemotherapy. However, the letter they received informed them that their insurance would pay for physician-assisted suicide.
Initially, the law established assisted suicide as an exception. As public opinion has shifted toward considering them as rights, there has become a corresponding duty on doctors to act and patients to accept termination as their duty.
The patient can become fearful of being a burden to family and society. The "right to die" has evolved into the "duty to die."
Killing is not health care.
As a physician and one who experienced the loss of a family member from a glioblastoma (the same tumor Maynard had), I do not support the killing of patients or loved ones in an attempt to alleviate the patient's or the family's suffering.
Not only does this undermine the practice of medicine which seeks to heal patients but devalues human life. A human being's dignity is never measured by one's age, health or condition of dependency.
As physicians and people who love their family, my husband and I set about the task of helping my father-in-law receive the best care to prolong his life as well as offer him comfort following his diagnosis.
As he neared the end, he was prepared for his time to go home by receiving the sacraments of the Catholic Church and died peacefully at home surrounded by family at the hour chosen by the Lord. That is death with dignity.