So-called “physician-assisted suicide” is again emerging here as an allegedly ethical legal option, although other descriptives are being put forward; e.g., “physician assistance in dying.” The latter phrase is evidently more useful in efforts to “justify” ethically inexplicable procedures, as well as attempts to avoid “slippery slope” cul-de-sacs. Nonetheless, “physician-assisted suicide” is both ungodly and unreasonable. Faith and reason merge here, as everywhere else in ethical matters.
Shakespeare’s admonition in Hamlet is perennially true; namely that the Divinity has “fixed his canon” against the direct taking of innocent human life. The Infinite, Eternal Word of God, the Logos of St. John’s Gospel, cannot negate what reason clearly affirms; nor can reason ever nullify the Divine will. Thomas Aquinas’s argument to this effect is incontrovertible; namely, that Truth, Divine Wisdom, cannot possibly conflict with truth. Because of this principle, as Philosopher Ralph McInerny once remarked in a lecture here in Connecticut, the church, “in speaking on ethical matters, almost invariably appeals to moral commonplaces as well as to Scripture and Tradition.” This is why, he added, that Christendom never could (never can) “become like the Iran of the Ayatollah.”
That any form of euthanasia, under which “physician-assisted suicide” is somehow listed, can be moral, was deemed irrational three centuries prior to Christian Revelation by the first of the three most original minds of the ancient world, Socrates of Athens. Unjustly condemned to death, and urged by his colleagues to cheat the executioner, he clearly rejected the thought with the observation that he belonged to the gods, not to himself. God alone gives life; man may not directly take innocent human life.
Today, of course, false accents of relativism have been inserted into bioethical analyses. Almost unbelievably, the concept of human dignity is being “redefined” to suit pragmatic or material ends. And theories with innate weaknesses abound, especially varying interpretations of autonomy, nonmaleficence, benevolence and justice, each “ordered” toward a “common morality.” Yet Socrates’s witness at death simply cannot be ignored. Life and death are in God’s hands. Assisting the dying with spiritual and corporal palliative care remains paramount.