Mar 22, 2017 / 04:11 pm
Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch made a crucial ethical distinction in his response to questions about doctor-prescribed suicide during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, said one ethicist.
When asked what his views were on end-of-life care in the case of a terminal patient enduring unbearable pain, Gorsuch replied that “anything necessary to alleviate pain would be appropriate and acceptable, even if it caused death. Not intentionally, but knowingly. I drew the line between intent and knowingly.”
This is an important distinction, said Edward Furton Ph.D., director of publications and an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center. He told CNA that the situation presents the case of “double-effect,” where proper steps taken to alleviate a patient’s pain may have the side effect of causing their death, but are permissible when certain conditions are met.
“You’ve got a good intention, the action you’re doing is good – in this case, it’s alleviating the pain with appropriate amounts of medication,” he explained, emphasizing that the dosage of pain medication may never be lethal and should not render the patient unconscious except when “absolutely necessary.”
“You’ve got a side effect, which is not intended, but is foreseen. It is going to happen, but you don’t want it to happen, you’re doing your action for another reason. And there is really no other route to alleviate the pain. So this is perfectly appropriate, it makes good sense,” Furton said.
Gorsuch, a judge on the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, faced his third day of questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday as he is considered for confirmation to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.
He wrote a book in 2006 on “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.” Gorsuch explored various arguments made in favor of doctor-prescribed suicide and euthanasia before offering his own observations and opinions.
The book “was my doctoral dissertation, essentially,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. It was written “in my capacity as a commentator” and not as a judge, he clarified. The book was published the same year he was nominated and confirmed to the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
He argued in the book that “human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable, and that the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.” Regarding doctor-prescribed suicide, he upheld laws prohibiting it, basing his argument upon “secular moral theory.” …
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