Opinion: Doctors as deliverers of death? | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 13.11.2014
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Science

Opinion: Doctors as deliverers of death?

Should assisted suicide be legal? Opinion is split, and the German parliament is debating this for the first time. Saying "yes" to assisted suicide would send a disastrous signal, says DW's Fabian Schmidt.

No one can stop a person who has decided to commit suicide and who is able to do so. But doctors should never be a part of it - doctors are there to protect and save lives.

Supporters of doctor-assisted suicide say terminally ill patients, such as cancer patients, would be spared profound suffering if they were able to "freely" end their own lives.

They say they are fighting for the rights of patients who want a "dignified" death.

They portray patients as having to face an impersonal and cold industrial system of medicine, along with long periods spent in a vegetative state, leading to a far-too-late and excruciating death.

Apparently "dignified"

Terminally ill patients can find themselves under a lot of pressure - even those who have a clear state of mind - although this is not always openly addressed.

Deutsche Welle Fabian Schmidt

DW's Fabian Schmidt works on the science desk

Some patients may ask themselves, Can I really subject my loved ones to my needing months or even years of care? Should I burden them with my pain and suffering?

And how will I feel about being cared for by strangers, or being robbed of my privacy?

Faced with such questions, an assisted suicide may appear to be a quick and easy solution, and a means to dying in a "dignified" way.

But such a suicide is never "dignified" - neither for the patient, nor for the society that allows it.

Legally approving assisted suicide would force every terminally ill patient to answer these questions.

But suicide bears no relation to dignity if you're motivated by a fear of appearing egotistical for wanting to live on!

Difficult for doctors

Legalizing assisted suicide would also put doctors in an untenable position. They would have to advise patients as to whether continuing living was worthwhile.

Whole fields of medicine would see a career path filled with hundreds or even thousands of assisted deaths.

German doctors' associations are against assisted suicide - and with good reason.

They say there can be no such organized death-mechanism - not in hospitals, or in medical practices. Nowhere.

It's also why organizations such as the Swiss "Dignitas," whose sole goal is to support assisted suicide, are banned in Germany.

Support for the dying

The best way to treat terminally ill people with dignity is through hospice care and palliative medicine.

They provide a protective environment and human assistance in the last days of a patient's life.

Modern and effective pain medication is a part of such care - and patients still have the right to avoid prolonging life artificially with the use of medical machinery.

So what we really need is less debate over assisted suicide - and more support for the weak and sick!

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