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For the week of Nov. 3, 1999 through Nov. 9, 1999

Oregon’s assisted suicide setback only temporary

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

Our Oregon neighbors are discovering that the Republican majority in Congress as a group has a believability problem like the Rev. Jimmy Swaggert.

You remember preacher Swaggert, the Louisiana televangelist who made a fortune with fire and brimstone damnation of sin— then was photographed cavorting with prostitutes, forcing him to weep through apologies and pleas for forgiveness on TV.

So, here’s the GOP majority in the House, foot soldiers in the Gingrich Revolution, promising to return power to the states. The faithful were taken in by the promises.

So, two years ago, Oregon voters okayed physician-assisted suicide.

But just as pastor Swaggert didn’t practice what he preached, House Republicans made a mockery of their words, too— they voted to abolish the right of Oregon to allow physician-assisted suicide.

So much for returning power to the states.

Just as organ transplants several decades ago were considered works of Satan, but now are accepted lifesaving procedures, so, too, assisted suicide by some other name will become an accepted procedure in the next century.

The most compelling arguments favoring assisted suicide are the obvious—indescribable pain of hopelessly ill patients and the indescribable costs to families of providing for the dying over months, sometimes years.

It’s no secret in medical circles that some physicians have been tacit participants in patient suicide; that is, providing medications that can be fatal when ingested in quantity.

Ironically, by another name, the first major practical step toward physician-assisted suicide was taken long before Oregon approved the more straightforward procedure. The widely accepted "living will" that instructs physicians and families to avoid taking any heroic measures to keep a patient alive is now widely recommended by physicians and lawyers alike.

Although not strictly a procedure for suicide, the "living will" runs counter to the generally accepted spirit of the Hippocratic ethic of physicians to use every method to treat a patient.

Politicians who meddle in medicine and science in the name of morality inevitably hold back progress in finding ways of prolonging healthful life.

The ultimate irony, of course, is that these politicians are about as fluent in medical and science matters as in how to solve the problem of Social Security.

Pat Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.


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