Life and the Law

Life is not for human beings to give or take away. In relation to that spiritual bedrock, the debate over "doctor-assisted suicide" can be seen as involving more than legal issues. Rather, as exemplified in this week's US Supreme Court hearings, there is the most earnest soul-searching over what circumstances, if any, permit one individual to cooperate in hastening the death of another. Our hearts go out to sufferers and their loved ones who might reach the point of contemplating such a recourse.

Living wills give individuals legal instruments to designate or delegate treatment preferences when terminal illness is diagnosed. Should people have the option to choose death with a doctor's active aid? Official committees in Britain and Canada have recommended against it. So has the American Medical Association. The Supreme Court is reviewing lower court decisions that upheld a right to assisted suicide. A central concern is whether such "suicide" could be abused for cost-cutting or other interests not those of the patient.

Many doctors have reportedly taken humane measures to let patients die. But we've heard a doctor argue passionately against "pulling the plug" in even the most hopeless cases. He had seen such patients recover. To him the idea of aiding their demise would be anathema.

So it is to us. But we would never intrude on another's decision. Nor does a court's ruling relieve any of us from making our own decisions according to our own bedrock conviction of what life is.

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