To the Editor:
There is something strange and cruel in our legal system, and it should be changed. If a pet has a terminal affliction, the owner can get a veterinarian to put it to sleep. Though that's a sad decision, it's a merciful one. The vet is not going to be charged with a crime, or the pet's owner with being an accessory. This is reasonable and universally accepted.
But if a human --- any one of us --- has an incurable disease and is in unendurable pain the physician can only try to sedate the patient. To accede to the patient's, the family's, the clergy's pleadings for euthanasia is illegal. The doctor has to refuse, even if he/she agrees it is the only logical and compassionate course. The doctor who does assist becomes a criminal. That just isn't right.
This is an instance of the law being a harmful factor in a society that likes to think of itself as an advanced culture.
It is the rulings made by legislators that causes doctors to deny a dignified end of life and condemns the terminal patient to suffer unnecessary pain. It is not, as many think, a matter of medical ethics. There are many versions of the Hippocratic oath, and only a small number prohibit euthanasia. Those which include the phrase "... shall do no harm ... " don't specify which is the greater harm, prolonged unendurable pain or an earlier death. The British Medical Association's version states "... the prolongation of life is not the only aim of healthcare."
34 states explicitly criminalize assisted suicide. In 9 states, including Massachusetts, it is a crime in common law, the state's courts must enforce it. Only in Oregon and Washington is assisted suicide legal, and the Supreme Court has upheld them. Maine, California, and Alaska are currently seeking to legalize it. Massachusetts should join them.
If we are indeed a civilized society, can't we remove this legalization of brutality? Long ago the world's most famous writer of plays wrote, "The quality of mercy is not strained / It droppeth as the gentle rain from Heaven."
It would be nice if we got some of that gentle rain. It is shameful that we have instead the deep freeze of unfeeling "justice" instead.
Richard C. Bartlett