Euthanasia Inevitable, Ethicist Says

 

By SPENCER S. HSU        Herald Staff Writer           December 1, 1991   Page 2BR, Miami Herald

 

LAUDERDALE LAKES - A medical ethicist said Saturday that voluntary euthanasia will inevitably win a place in American society, despite objections from religious groups arid physicians.

 

Richard Nolan, a Yale and New York University-educated philosopher, addressed the topic before the Hemlock Society of Broward County.

 

"The ending of one's life under particular circumstances is not murder," Nolan said, to about 35 members and visitors at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Lauderdale. "If 1 should terminate my own life because 1 had reached a terminal stage of illness ... it would be because it was the responsible thing to do."

 

The issue has received intense scrutiny, through the rise of the best-selling suicide manual, Final Exit by Hemlock Society founder Derek Humphry, and the actions of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the Michigan doctor who has helped three women kill themselves.

 

Three weeks ago, voters in Washington state rejected a measure to legalize physician-assisted suicide. The election highlighted the agonizing national debate on when patients and loved ones should be allowed to stop medical treatment.

 

A new federal law takes effect today requiring hospitals to ask incoming patients if they wish to fill out a "living will," which could help them plan their death." I believe these changes [in attitude1 are coming slowly - for many of us it is coming too slowly - but it's coming," Nolan said. "The choice will be there someday.

 

The Hemlock Society, founded in 1980, advocates assisted suicide in cases of terminal illness. But the nation's religious groups have split on the question, and medical professionals say the implied burdens on physicians to decide life and death would be immense.

 

Broward Hemlock Society co-president Mary Hudson said interest in the group has risen sharply, especially among middle-aged people with loved ones with protracted illnesses.

 

Nolan focused Saturday on the ethical choice when patients in deep pain ask to stop aggressive medical intervention.

 

Nolan said the law on prolonging life through technology should state, "Go ahead if you want to do it for yourself, but don't do it to me.