October 11, 2005

State Rights or Accepted Medical Purpose?

Last week the Supreme Court heard arguments in Gonzalez v. State of Oregon regarding the state's law which permits assisted suicide. Many believe that this will be the first true test of Chief Justice Roberts's ability to interpret the Constitution.

Some are arguing that if the Supreme Court overruled the state's law then they would be undermining the Tenth Amendment which states:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
They argue that since this issue isn't directly covered under the Constitution, then the matter should be left up to the states. In Oregon voters decided that it would be acceptable medical practice to allow physicians, under very strict circumstances, to assist terminally ill patients by prescribing them medication to end their life. Those who stand firmly on this position state that the Supreme Court would be trumping their power over the state of Oregon.

Those who argue against the use of this practice state that it's not a states' rights issue at all. Rather Oregon is in violation of the Federal Controlled Substances Act which controls the dispersal of dangerous drugs. The act ensures that drugs prescribed by doctors are used for "accepted medical purposes" and that assisting an individual in their own death does not constitute an accepted medical purpose since the role of the doctor is to be a healer.

So is this a states' rights issue or an issue of accepted medical purpose? I think that in order to find the answer to this question we must first look at the purpose of government. The purpose of government is to protect the life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness of each American citizen. In this respect there are two contradicting issues: life and the pursuit of happiness. Government should protect the life of its citizens but what happens when the pursuit of happiness results in the end of life for a citizen? It is a paradox when looked at in this regard. I believe that ultimately this comes down to an issue of ethical practice. The role of the physician is to treat individuals and their illnesses in order to heal. The Hippocratic Oath clearly states:

"To consider dear to me as my parents him who taught me this art; to live in common with him and if necessary to share my goods with him; to look upon his children as my own brothers, to teach them this art if they so desire without fee or written promise; to impart to my sons and the sons of the master who taught me and the disciples who have enrolled themselves and have agreed to the rules of the profession, but to these alone the precepts and the instruction. I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgement and never do harm to anyone. To please no one will I prescribe a deadly drug nor give advice which may cause his death. Nor will I give a woman a pessary to procure abortion. But I will preserve the purity of my life and my art. I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art. In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing and all seduction and especially from the pleasures of love with women or with men, be they free or slaves. All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal. If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all men and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot."
The doctor that does not subscribe to this oath should not be allowed to practice medicine. The state should not be able to enact a law which would allow a doctor to legally violate the oath to protect those they are entrusted to care for.

Posted by everyman at October 11, 2005 01:37 PM | TrackBack
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