The battle for life rages on many fronts these days. With serious faces, legislators debate whether babies feel pain, as if pain defines whether life should continue.
Here at Life Issues Institute, our mission has always been to protect human life, from fertilization through natural death. Between those two moments we humans work out who we are, what we believe and what sort of mark we’ll leave on the world.
Perhaps few face those questions with more opportunities to make a mark than physicians. As the art and science of medicine advances, doctors deal with increasingly complex situations—and then they have to act. It’s one thing for us to decide what we believe as pro-lifers; it’s a step further to put belief into action that literally can mean life or death.
Last December, MedScape released its fascinating Ethics Report 2014. Altogether, 21,531 physicians from the US and Europe responded to a two-part questionnaire about ethics. Part 1 dealt with three categories: life, death and pain.
The question of assisted suicide lands hard on physicians, since current and proposed laws require a physician’s involvement. MedScape asked, “Should physician-assisted suicide be allowed?” In 2014, 54 percent of US doctors said yes; 31 percent said no, with one adamantly stating, “Physicians are healers. We are not instruments of death. This is wrong.” 15 percent of respondents answered “It depends.”
Doctors in Europe, where assisted suicide is already legal throughout some countries, see things differently; they were evenly divided between yes and no at 41 percent, with 18 percent opting for “it depends.” One European wrote, “My job is to do no harm. How does helping someone kill themselves make me any different from Dr Shipman (a British physician who murdered over 250 patients)?” It appears that physicians who’ve seen assisted suicide in action are less likely to approve of it.
Almost every question revealed that physicians often deal with “it depends.” Should a treatment continue if it won’t change the outcome but the family requests it? One doctor commented that he never offers treatment he believes is futile; others said they would if it helped the family believe they had done all they could.
What about life support? Is it being withdrawn too soon? Only 14 percent think so; all the rest said no. “Many factors go into this decision,” MedScape reported, “but in some cases, doctors claim that pressure has been exerted in order to save costs, either by the hospital or the family paying the bills.” Evidence provided by families shows a growing trend that many doctors or
nurses give up on patients too soon.
The responses to a couple of questions really startled me. First, when asked if they would perform an abortion if it were against their own personal beliefs, 44 percent said yes. “It’s not my right to question others’ beliefs,” one doctor wrote. We need to pray for those yeses and the 15 percent who said “it depends” and be thankful for the 41 percent who said no.
The second question asked about late-term abortion. The “no” percentage was exactly the same—41 percent—but the “yeses” were fewer at 23 percent. “You might as well wait for the delivery and club the child to death,” wrote one doctor. (I’m guessing a resounding no). But another wrote, “As a pediatrician, I’ve seen too many tragedies to not know that it would have been better for all if the child hadn’t been born.” How sad to think that God had no plans for these babies.
Deciding whether a child would be better off not born? That’s a heavy weight for a “yes” to carry. I like this doctor’s answer: “Physicians should promote the preservation of life.”
One doctor beautifully summed up the duty—no, the privilege—of preserving life. The question had to do with neonatal ICU care in the face of “an objectively terrible quality of life.” The doctor wrote, “What, are we playing God now? How in the world do we know who will have a terrible life? There are many physically healthy people who are miserable and many physically challenged people who lead very meaningful lives.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.