Allowing a patient to die is morally acceptable, but euthanasia is not, a visting scholar at Harvard's Divinity School told 20 people in the Science Center last night.
In a speech entitled "The Moral Dangers of Euthanasia," William Reichel, a professor of community and family medicine at Georgetown University, described the ethical difference between discontinuing treatment that prolongs a patient's life and forcibly ending it by lethal injection or other means.
"We need a change in our medical ethos that would allow people to die when they reach a point that is unnecessarily burdensome," Reichel said. But, he added, "The deliberate taking of a human life should remain a crime."
Reichel said if euthanasia were legalized, "Many, including Alzheimer patients and AIDS victims, might be judged unworthy of living." He added tht others might think society no longer needed them.
Another problem with euthanasia, Reichel said, was its bad effect on the doctor-patient relationship.
"The patient trusts the doctor to value his life and not to try to end it," Reichel said, adding that it was important to follow the Hippocratic Oath, which "keeps a separation between killing and curing."
Reichel also said he thought religious arguments against euthanasia were sound, and commandments such as "Thou shall not kill," which appear in every major religion, show that life is fundamentally sacred.
Medical practices in Nazi Germany demonstrate the dangers of legal euthanasia, Reichel added.
"If patients are handled with care and compassion, there will be little demand for euthanasia," Reichel said. "There is nothing wrong with switching off machines and pulling feeding tubes...but there is a major difference between withholding burdensome technology and actually killing patients. The doctor must not kill."
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