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Purpose, palliative care, and respect for human life


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Aiding the deliberate destruction of human life has no place in the doctor's job description.

The Massachusetts Medical Society recently voted to affirm its opposition to physician-assisted suicide. This vote matters because a movement is now afoot to de-criminalize assisted suicide in Massachusetts (and elsewhere). If successful, this movement would enlist physicians to assist in acts of self-murder. The physicians want no part in that. The president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, Lynda Young, stated, "Physicians of our Society have clearly declared that physician-assisted suicide is inconsistent with the physician's role as healer and health care provider." Aiding the deliberate destruction of human life has no place in the doctor's job description.

Equally important is the Society's affirmation of its commitment to palliative care. The policy, according to Young, expresses "support for patient dignity and the alleviation of pain and suffering at the end of life," and encourages physicians "to contribute to the comfort and dignity of the patient and the patient's family." As the Society acknowledges, palliation is an important part of the doctor's vocation. Doctors rightly provide comfort to the dying, even when they know that death inevitably approaches. Unlike assisted suicide, palliative care is not inconsistent with the physician's commitment to life and health.

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