It's finally here. At last doctors can regard killing patients as a legitimate part of their duties. For thousands of years, physicians regarded the preservation of human life as their most sacred duty, with relief from pain and suffering as a close second. The battle to prevent death and destruction, pain and suffering was the reason that many of the brightest and most dedicated went into medicine and not,say, engineering. The science of medicine was always fascinating and intellectually stimulating, but there was a lot more to it than that. A doctor was part scientist, part philosopher and part priest. Now, don't go getting your knickers in a twist over that last role. The confessional was the first psychiatric out-patient clinic and probably did as much to relieve human pain and suffering.
As soon as dispensing death becomes a part of the role of a physician, before a single death is dispensed, a revolutionary change will have taken place in the aeons of medical tradition. There are going to be two very major changes. The first, will be in physicians themselves. There is now a new, hitherto prohibited treatment, that can be dispensed when all else has failed. Incurable diseases, that caused terrible pain and suffering can now be alleviated by a death prescription. So all of those patients condemned to that fate can be relieved of their pain and suffering. But what if a cure turns up? Medicine is full of such stories. A hundred years ago that could have included a myriad of incurable diseases, tuberculosis, syphilis, and a huge encyclopedia of infectious diseases. Suddenly, some physician, committed to saving lives, by brilliance or serendipity, stumbled upon a cure. Penicillin cured incurable diseases by the million, streptomycin did the same for tuberculosis and an endless parade of miracle antibiotics made the incurable suddenly curable. All those incurable tuberculosis patients housed in sanatoria throughout Ireland during my youth, wasting away and waiting death were suddenly and miraculously curable. Good job we didn't have the death option then!
Next week, I will tell you of an unofficial piece of research on patients' death decisions that never saw the light of day. This one might surprise you!