What's the big deal about physician-assisted suicide?

Physicians and other caregivers have the obligation to maintain life and to relieve pain. These two duties, however, may come into conflict when caring for someone who is dying.

Proponents of physician-assisted suicide at times argue that their initiatives are the only way to protect the dying from severe and intractable pain. It is true, too, that public opinion polls reveal that many people who favor assisted suicide do so because they do not want to endure a physically painful death. Quite understandably, people want to make the last steps in life without pain.

It is important to point out that the effective treatment of pain guarantees that no one will suffer a painful death. Health-care providers must make every effort to ensure that the available medications to eliminate or control pain are provided to a patient.

From a moral perspective, a physician may responsibly administer medications to control or alleviate pain even when doing so may hasten death. The physician’s intention is not to kill the patient but to relieve pain effectively with the medicines available.

"True compassion leads to sharing another's pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear." --Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life, 66*

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