(Wesley J. Smith / First Things) – There’s an old joke that goes something like this: “What do you call the student who graduates dead last in his class at medical school?”
I bring up that old saw because of a recent story out of California, where assisted suicide has just been legalized. Lonny Shavelson, a Berkeley emergency-room doctor who hasn’t practiced medicine for two years—and a long-time advocate of assisted suicide, as author of A Chosen Death—made headlines with the announcement that he is opening a death-doctor practice. For a $200 consultation fee, and $1800 more if he is retained, Shavelson will evaluate and certify people who come to him—I refuse to call them his “patients”—as eligible for death, prescribe the lethal drugs, fill out the required bureaucratic forms, and presumably attend their deaths.
Think about this for a moment: Would anyone in their right mind trust an ER doctor to properly palliate the pain of terminal cancer or treat lethal congestive heart failure? Of course not! The ability to provide excellent care for terminally ill patients requires medical specialization and ongoing professional education in the particular disease. That is why no ER physician worth his salt would assume responsibility for the medical care of terminally ill patients outside of a temporary emergency-room or crisis context. CONTINUE