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In caring for all of our patients, but especially for those receiving end-of-life care, it is imperative that we physicians advocate, as you well have done, compassionate care and the measured, not mindless implementation of all available technologies. It is no less important, however, at this critical time, that we remind one another of the reasons why, for over 2,000 years, physicians have categorically opposed euthanasia.

“I will not give a lethal drug to anyone, even if I am asked, nor will I ever advise such a plan.”
Oath of Hippocrates, circa 400 BC.

More than a mere matter of taste, personal preference, or respect for diversity, our rejection of mercy-killing lies at the core of our Hippocratic commitment. We are called to be the trusted stewards of life, not executioners.

An article of mine, published in the Linacre Quarterly (Journal of the Catholic Medical Association): “Doctor, Thou Shalt Not Kill.” (Linacre Quarterly. 65:23-42, 1998), challenges the widely-held assumption that, should a person ever choose to end his life, for whatever reason, a physician would be the logical agent of choice, either to kill him or to help him to kill himself. In fact, the physician should be the last person in our society called upon to serve in the role of hired killer or of accomplice to self-execution.

In the tradition of Hippocrates, we are the healing profession; once we begin poisoning our patients, we poison irrevocably their trust in our unwavering commitment to their care.

Doctor Christoph Hufeland (1762-1836) cautioned the German court of his time, “If a physician presumes to take into account in his work whether a life has value or not, the consequences are boundless, and the physician becomes the most dangerous man in the state.”

Professor Edmund Pelligrino, M.D., while serving as Director of the Center for Advanced Study of Ethics at Georgetown University Medical Center, warned, “When the physician, who traditionally has had only the power to heal and to help, can now also kill, the medical fiduciary relationship – one of the oldest in history – cannot survive.”

Doctor Leo Alexander, Consultant to the U.S. Secretary of War at the Nuremburg War-Crimes Trial, looking back, in 1949, at the root causes of the Holocaust, stated, “Whatever proportions these crimes finally assumed, it became evident to all who investigated them that they had started from small beginnings. The beginnings, at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of the physicians. It started with the acceptance of the attitude, basic in the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived.”

I urge that the Medical Society of New Jersey remain in steadfast opposition to this and to any future legislation which opens the role for the physician to serve as a killer of patients.