* Oregon Prop. 16

Topics: Health
26 Mar 1995

From: "DG Ervan Darnell"

Tonight's (3/26) "60 Minutes" had a piece on the battle over Oregon's prop.
16 since it passed. Prop 16 allows doctors to prescribe fatal doses of
drugs for the purpose of suicide under the following circumstances:
1) The doctor agrees the patient is of sound mind and has <6 months to live.
2) A second physician concurs.
3) Two other witnesses agree the patient is of sound mind and witness the
signature of the appropriate document.
4) The doctor is not permitted to actually administer the drug, only to
prescribe it.

The proposition barely passed and its implementation is currently suspended
under a restraining order pending a further court case.

First, the issue itself. How is it the government ever granted itself the
authority to deny to individuals the right to commit suicide? I do not care
if it is terminal illness or terminal boredom, your life is your own. Of
course, if you owe me lots of money and have no estate, I may try to
dissuade you ;-)

My real point though is that medical licensure has created a problem where
none exists. The interesting thing is that no one even seems to see this.
The suit in court is trying to block the implementation of prop. 16 for the
reason that it amounts to state sanctioned murder. The curious thing is,
that is partially true. The government grants the right to (licensed)
doctors to practice medicine and prevents anyone else from doing so. It
also controls everything they can and cannot do. So, for the government to
grant the authority to prescribe lethal doses resembles its being involved
in doing so. It certainly puts it in the position of deciding under what
circumstances that right can be exercised. The problem is that it should
never have had the authority to prevent suicide in the first place. You
should be able to walk into a drug store and buy a lethal dose of whatever
you want regardless of whether or not any doctor prescribes it. It's still
very possible with handguns (harder to shoot yourself with a shotgun) and no
one sees that as state sanctioned murder.

A similar argument is that for doctors to prescribe fatal doses violates the
Hippocratic oath. That seems a valid piece of reasoning. But the erroneous
conclusion is that drug induced suicide should therefore be illegal.
Nonsense, it is only an argument that the medical monopoly should be

There is also an inclination to look to the medical establishment for
ethical wisdom in this matter. That is surely as misplaced as it is to ask
doctors how we should reform the insurance industry. Their expertise in
delivering the product gives no corresponding expertise in knowing when it
should be delivered. Not surprisingly, the medical establishment leans
against a proposal that would deprive them of the most profitable part of a
patient's life: the last few months of intensive and pointless care. Such
is the logical consequence of monopoly. They are using the legal system to
protect their turf. If people could freely choose to accept or ignore their
advice, the medical profession could regain some its moral authority.

A final argument against the proposal is that if people had the choice, they
might make decisions based upon what was cost effective. Yes, and? If
someone wants to leave another $50K for their children (or maybe the LP ;-)
instead of prolonging their own suffering, that seems perfectly sane to me.
Quality of life does matter. Not every moment is equal. Let people make
their own choices. The liberals, being stuck in their socialist quagmire of
thinking, see the cost issue only as the government killing people by
refusing the money to sustain life. Once again, this is not an argument
against prop. 16, but only one for privatizing health care. Even failing
that, the argument is self defeating because government health care is all
about rationing and letting some people die at the expense of others. There
is no escaping that box.

Government protected monopolies create not only economic inefficencies and
pork barrel politics, but when applied where "most needed" they create the
most damage by throwing us into a moral quagmire of controlling when and how
other people live or die.