[Hippocratic Oath V]
Want to know why medical doctors in the Western world no longer subscribe to the Hippocratic Oath?
“Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course. Similarly I will not give to a woman a pessary to cause abortion.”
Isn’t it odd how a statement of purpose that lasted more than 2000 years was quietly jettisoned over the last 50 years? All for two sentences. Two vital sentences.
“Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course”
The word complicity has become an important concept for me in recent years. “The fact or condition of being involved with others in an act or activity which is unlawful or morally wrong“. That is what this sentence speaks against.
More than once I have been asked at a death bed, to administer something that will speed someone’s passing. And it seems such a reasonable request! Surely it’s merciful to end someone’s suffering, to speed them through their final illness? No. Some reasons:
- Doctors make mistakes. Giving a human the power of life or death is terribly dangerous. I have seen moribund patients defy my expectations and live for a further year, when I’ve been doubtful whether they would survive a weekend.
- Doctors can be lazy. There are many clever ways of managing pain in a dying patient. But I need to check allergy status, do calculations, write up prescriptions, authorise the official syringe driver chart, write up ‘just in case’ medication dosing, check for interactions, liaise with nurses, liaise with out of hours services. That can take a long time. I have many other patients who need that time – if the option is there to give one single injection to end that person’s life, without all the hassle – well, I’m a busy person, right?
- Doctors are human. I am not God. My wife will verify this. I do not have the right of life and death over you, nor should I be burdened with that responsibility. Why not? Dr Harold Shipman is why. None of us are pure, none of us are without selfish motives. None of us can be trusted with that.
- It devalues suffering, and those who suffer. I love Public Discourse, and a recent article by Richard Stith gave me a new perspective on this. If you can be killed by a physician without having to suffer, then suffering must be of no value. In fact, suffering is stupid and selfish. The sufferer owes it to society to have their life ended, so that they are no longer a drain on medical resources and carers’ sympathy. End result? The person who suffers will be seen as less than a person, or of less value than a well person. This can only make the pressure on the individual greater, directly from their own conscience, and indirectly via care givers and medical staff. Euthanasia is not an answer to an ageing population, suffering, or strained healthcare budgets.
It reminds me of Stalin’s opinion on death – “When one man dies, it’s a tragedy. When thousands die, it’s statistics”. When we allow euthanasia to become depersonalised, it just becomes statistics. We can’t let that happen.