IMmortal Foundation’s introduction of the End of Life Option Act

Leszek and Terry behind the camera setting up for an interview

Leszek and Terry behind the camera for an interview

The June 9, 2016 implementation of California’s End of Life Option Act [AB-15] presents special challenges for the nation’s most populous state.

The strongest opposition to the implementation of California’s Aid-in-Dying Law comes not from the public, nor from political or judicial caveats. Rather, it comes from doctors who assert that this Law violates their Hippocratic Oath and their obligation as doctors to “do no harm” to their patients. The Oath states: “I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability, but never with a view to injury and wrongdoing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course.” Doctors who oppose the Law regard the writing of lethal prescriptions as a violation of their Oath and their ethical responsibility to help save life. And that “saving life” is a value of such universal importance to the practice of medicine that it should not be overridden by terminally ill patients’ desire to die.

Further opposition to the Law comes from hospital rabbis, chaplains, and ministers who consider self-inflicted death a violation of the commandment: “You shall not kill.” The purpose of the Ten Commandments, which, according to the Bible, God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai, is to foster beneficial harmony with God and fellow human beings. Killing oneself, according to the Judeo-Christian tradition, violates God’s law, places human will over Divine will, and causes discord in human relations and with God.

So strong is the opposition to AB-15 that this Law has been written in such a way that any doctor and any hospital in California can opt out of implementing it.

Doctors and lawyers supporting the Law say that doctors’ and chaplains’ ethics should not be imposed upon or frustrate terminally ill patients’ wish to end their pain and suffering – and that greater harm is done these patients when they are forced to endure further seemingly unbearable misery and diminution of quality of life. Proponents of the Law assert that a patient’s right, in the face of terminal suffering, to choose a peaceful, pain free death supercedes doctors’ ethics, chaplains’ beliefs, and any Divine or human value that would oppose self-inflicted death.

Having ministered as a hospital chaplain and presided over the funerals of people who have died from cancer, ALS, gunshot wounds, AIDS, spinal meningitis, cardiac arrest, and terrorist attacks, I understand and appreciate the viewpoints of those who support, and those who oppose AB-15. I have witnessed death processes so ravaging that a person’s body and mind are no longer recognizable — and are incapable of functioning without medical support. In these extreme cases, choices for further medical intervention seem to prolong death rather than save life. Even though I personally do not advocate that human will in the throes of death supercedes God’s will, or doctors’ responsibility to save life, not end it — I know that some who have chosen to end their lives have done so not out of fear of pain or disregard for God, but have done so out of love for their family, a desire to die with some measure of dignity and self-determination, and a refusal to allow death having the final say.

IMmortal Foundation is neither an advocate nor an opponent to AB-15. Rather, we recognize the crucial importance of promoting ongoing, frank, and respectful dialogue between those who support and those who oppose this Law. Even for those who oppose the Law, there is the overarching responsibility, for the sake of terminally ill patients desiring aid in dying, to be carefully informed about what the Law provides and how it serves patients and doctors who have decided that dying peacefully is better than living in anguish.

IMmortal Foundation’s interviews with Attorney Kathryn Tucker, J.D. and with Dr. Lonny Shavelson are intended to advance this important dialogue. We hope that you find them informative and timely.

Terrance A. Sweeney, Ph. D.
Co-Founder and Executive Vice President, IMmortal Foundation

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