License to Kill

We must all die. But prosperity, good food, and medical advances allow that day, at least in most advanced industrial countries, to be postponed far beyond any time dreamed of by our ancestors. The biblical golden age of threescore and ten has become commonplace. And where advanced old age is not reached, still many older people manage to live with ills that rapidly ended the lives of their parents or grandparents.

Because death has been staved off for so long for so many, achieving the end of life in a "good" death has actually become more ambiguous and more problematic. People linger in states of physical pain and spiritual or psychological suffering, sometimes attached to tubes and monitors, or sometimes abandoned in nursing homes, half-comatose and badly cared for. There is surely something paradoxical in living a life where death comes to seem a far preferable alternative, but which, nonetheless, stands just beyond the grasp of the suffering and dying.

Such are the scenarios that drive the movement for physician-assisted suicide. People who have watched parents, spouses, friends, even children dying so painfully, or who fear such an end for themselves, may become ready supporters of proposals that would allow physicians to legally prescribe lethal doses of drugs with which dying persons might kill themselves. It seems simple enough to execute. Furthermore, it plays into a well-honed...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.