The Issue of Physician-Assisted-Dying Exemplifies Why Ibsen Wrote “An Enemy of the People”

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Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

This Globe Newswire story came across my feed this weekend:

TUCSON, Ariz., Dec. 07, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Physician-assisted suicide (PAS) or physician-assisted death (PAD) are now receiving strong public support, writes Jeffrey Hall Dobken, M.D., M.P.H., in the winter issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. He traces the history of the acceptance of PAS/PAD in public policy and law to the ascendancy of “lifeboat ethics.”

The story begins by describing how bioethics professionals attempt to create algorithms for every situation based on scarcity of resources available. What the Globe story then points out is how all these ethical conclusions are built on the premise of scarcity without ever questioning the issue of scarcity itself. Dr. Dobken essentially debunks the approach currently being taken to justify more widespread use of Physician-Assisted Death.

When I was in college Joseph Fletcher’s 1966 book Situation Ethics proposed that since moral decision-making takes place in a context, the moral absolutes of right and wrong cannot be used as a framework for decision making. It was interesting to have this book by an Anglican theologian studied alongside Camus and Sartre in my Existential Philosophy class in the early 70s.

Situation ethics, however, flies in the face of both historical Judea-Christian ethics and the Hippocratic Oath.

The historic trend over the past 30 years with regard to ethical issues in terminal health care has been toward an increased acceptance of these new ideas about it being OK for doctors to help end a life when necessary. What concerns me, however, is when ethical decisions are based not on ethical dialogue amongst informed leaders but rather turned over to the crowd, the generally uninformed populace.

That is the direction certain pro-D-A-S advocates are aiming for in Maine this coming year. “Let the voters decide” is an easy out for legislators. It’s nothing more than a means of avoiding the responsibility of actually making a decision on this matter.

This past few months I’ve been re-thinking the strengths and weaknesses of Democracy, especially its weaknesses. It began when I read a biography of James Madison, our fourth president, who had mixed feelings on the matter. My uneasiness grew after watching and reading Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People.

Do “the people” really know what’s best for them?

There are any number of “red flags” to consider. My article Making the Final Choice: Should Physician Assisted Dying Be Legalized touches on seven of these.

Much more could be said, but I’m going to leave that for another space in time. Suffice it to say: It’s complicated.

An original article for Medium.

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An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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