California Lawsuit Seeks to Decimate Hippocratic Oath


The recent death of 77-year-old Judy Dale has sparked controversy regarding California’s recently passed statute legalizing assisted suicide. Dale, a cancer patient, passed away from her illness at home last year after not receiving a prescription for lethal medication that she had allegedly requested for the entirety of her final hospitalization. After her passing, Dale’s children filed a lawsuit alleging elder abuse for her oncologists’ refusal to prescribe life-ending drugs on account of their mother’s pain.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle:

[The] lawsuit by her children will determine whether UCSF Medical Center, where Dale first went for treatment, was responsible for her suffering by allegedly concealing its oncologists’ decision not to provide life-ending drugs to patients who ask for them.

The California statute in question, known as the End of Life Option Act, clearly outlines the new rights of terminally ill patients but offers few guidelines or obligations for health care providers. According to the law, terminally ill patients may request life-ending medication if they are of sound mental condition and have been diagnosed by at least two doctors as having 6 months or less to live. The law further stipulates that the patients must make two separate requests for the prescription, no less than 15 days apart, and they must administer the medication themselves.

The law also clearly states that physicians and hospitals are under no obligation to prescribe said medications if they object to the practice of assisted suicide on moral, personal or religious grounds. According to Dr. Lael Duncan of the Coalition for Compassionate Care of California, “They [doctors] are not required to discuss the aid-in-dying law with their patients even when discussing other end-of-life treatment options.”

This provision, as important as it is for the conscience rights of California doctors, is also the crux of the problem for the Dale family. The Dales’ lawsuit makes clear they believe it to be a violation of a patient’s rights if a doctor does not agree to participate in the ending a patient’s life when said patient deems it to be appropriate.

This is lunacy. Every licensed doctor in the United States took a Hippocratic oath to “first do no harm” to every patient who they seek to treat, and ending a patient’s life most definitely falls under the category of harm. Although many may contend that euthanizing a terminally ill patient is in their best interest, this debate illustrates a morally grey area that many doctors find to be a violation of their sacred oath to protect and preserve life at all costs.

Unfortunately, this flippant valuation of life comes as no surprise to pro-life advocates around the country. The similarities between the Dale family’s arguments and those of pro-abortion advocates are striking. Defenders of abortion have long since discarded the mantra of “safe, legal, and rare,” instead declaring it a human right that the American taxpayer must pay for.

Euthanasia advocates would now appear to be following a similar path. They are no longer advocating for the allowance of their suffering relatives to peacefully pass away on their own terms, but rather, they are seeking to mandate healthcare professionals to participate in the deaths of countless patients who these doctors have dedicated endless hours to comfort and cure.

There is definitely a discussion to be had regarding the morality of peacefully ending the life of a suffering person, and the comparisons to abortion are admittedly not perfect. Nevertheless, to attempt to coerce health professionals — who have committed their lives to preserving and improving life — into participating in assisted suicide is truly disturbing. As the culture of death continues to run rampant in the United States, concerned citizens must continue to vehemently oppose it at every turn. We must return to valuing all life and seeking to preserve it whenever possible. To take a life is something that must be avoided at all costs, and to force another to take part in such an act is a chilling indication of how far American culture has decayed.

Erik Halvorson

Erik Halvorson is a regular contributor to and a student at Hillsdale College.

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