First, an old joke:
A certain scientist was utterly convinced that he could create a living human being, and challenged God to a contest. “I made human beings from the dust of the earth,” said God. “Do you really think you can do that?” “Absolutely,” proclaimed the scientist. “Let’s get started!” He reached down and grabbed a handful of earth. “No, you don’t!” said God. “Get your own dirt.”
Now, the proposal:
All healthcare professionals, and all healthcare professional facilities, will refuse to take part, in any way, in any activity, either direct or indirect, that facilitates death: abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, capital punishment. Healthcare will make a complete and thorough break from all connections with these procedures, refusing to train their practitioners, give hospital privileges to them, make referrals to them, or allow them entry into the profession.
This is not a proposal to outlaw any of these activities. It merely disconnects the healthcare community from them as profoundly as possible, and demands that the dealers in death fend for themselves.
You want to practice death? Get your own dirt.
The Purpose of Medicine
This proposal runs in the opposite direction from efforts to see to it that abortions only take place in hospitals, or that abortion clinics be associated with hospitals, or that abortionists have medical privileges at hospitals. It also runs in the opposite direction from all attempts to have medical personnel evaluate patients in preparation for their suicides.
It may sound as though I am proposing that the medical profession abandon the vulnerable to the clutches of the unscrupulous. Admittedly, it may have such an unintended effect in the short term. However, I believe that this move will fairly quickly have a remarkable effect on the practice of medicine, the security of patients, and our perceptions of the death dealers, because it would remove the cover of the honorable healthcare professions with which abortionists and euthanasia enthusiasts drape themselves.
The movement in Western societies to bring abortion and euthanasia out of the shadows and into civilized society has been driven by the claims that these procedures are (1) acts of compassion and (2) medical procedures, accompanied by the mistaken notion that the central focus of healthcare is not the care of health but the elimination of all human suffering. Abortion and euthanasia are, of course, neither medical procedures nor acts of true compassion.
My proposal would not be made on grounds of conscience, let alone religious freedom. It would be made on entirely medical grounds: the purpose of the healthcare profession is to restore health and provide compassionate care for those they cannot restore to health. These death-dealing activities are the opposite of health restoration and care.
The integrity of the healing professions is at stake. Thus, the healthcare professions will have nothing to do with them. There will be no participation; there will be no training for them. Any healthcare professional who is involved in these activities will be unceremoniously booted from the profession.
Why Involve Healthcare Professionals in Dealing Death?
Death does not need the actions of professionals. It can be delivered by anyone. People have from time immemorial desired to rid themselves of their unwanted unborn children, finding ingenious, if risky, ways to do so. No special expertise is required to end one’s own, or anyone else’s, life.
So why have healthcare professionals been dragged into these practices? It’s actually simple, if unfortunate. When we human beings involve ourselves in unsavory doings, we have an overwhelming desire for the following things: (1) that our acts be publicly accepted, if not approved, so as to garner at least some semblance of legitimacy; and (2) that when we perform these acts, they can be made less messy and inconvenient. Where 1 and 2 are not fully implemented, then we desire 3, that no one look too carefully at what we are up too—that it remain as “private” as possible.
Medical professionals have been taken for a ride in relation to the first consideration (public acceptance of the acts), out of concern for the second (easing the difficulties of real people). Healthcare professionals have developed various types of expertise precisely in order to serve with compassion. For the most part, they have not been eager to be involved in deliberately causing death. Unfortunately, it is not difficult to come to believe that the compassionate thing to do is to help make these procedures less messy and inconvenient.
Thus, for example, we have the healthcare community’s participation in abortion. Instead of rejecting this practice outright, medical professionals have allowed their seal of approval on it as legitimate healthcare. This is due in part to the fact that many in the profession have considered it a true healthcare practice under certain very limited circumstances (for example, to protect the life of the mother), and they alone have the required expertise to carry it out. More dangerously, many accept the reasoning that healthcare is not so much the practice of a profession with a definite goal—the restoration and maintenance of human health, objectively understood—as it is a means to bringing about subjective personal or social goals, like the elimination of suffering or sadness.
The Gradual Perversion of the Medical Profession
Once the subjective understanding of healthcare’s purpose is accepted, it becomes almost impossible to resist the charm of assisted suicide and even direct euthanasia. In the Netherlands, for example, euthanasia is routinely talked about as a treatment, despite the fact that it treats nothing at all, and instead eliminates the symptoms by eliminating the patient—precisely the opposite of the course of any other action called “treatment.” Nor is it compassionate. Compassion literally means “suffering with.” Once we say, “It’s OK with us if you kill yourself,” we are saying “We will no longer be with you in your suffering.” Once we say, “We’ll help you die,” we are saying, “Please hurry up about it.” Once we say, “Here are drugs to do the deed,” we are saying, “Don’t leave a mess for us to clean up.”
Over the years, as doctors, nurses, counselors, and administrators have been entrenched in these practices, they have become habituated to them, and to the language that justifies them: customers (often patients, but sometimes other interested parties) making autonomous choices for their own reasons. But how many in the healthcare professions have, over time, increasingly come to think of themselves as meat mechanics pressed into service to do things they never got into medicine for, rather than healthcare professionals with a mission of restoring human health and the fullness of living? For a few, giving the customer what he or she wants and getting handsomely paid for it proves a very attractive option. It should surprise no one, though, that this wears on many, and that burnout is a frequent result.
Every so often, the public gets a look at the likes of Kermit Gosnell, or we glimpse the inner workings of Planned Parenthood as they use more dangerous procedures without the woman’s consent so as to more easily obtain intact fetal organs to sell, and the jig is up. When abortionists’ acts become inconveniently messy, the first response is always to cover it up and count on the real medical professionals to clean up the mess—and to keep a lid on it. And real medical professionals usually do keep it quiet, even to the extent of writing down false causes of death. Purveyors of assisted suicide are a step ahead of abortionists here: in most states that allow it, the physician is instructed to list the underlying disease as the cause of death, rather than the suicide—that is, the physician is officially required to lie about the cause of death.
The Time Is Now
Making death-dealing illegal is the ultimate goal. In the meantime, as long as it is legal, there will be people who professionally devote themselves to the practice of death. The medical profession should make those people train their own. Do not give them the cover of the healthcare profession. Let people who wish to be party to death-dealing—or willing victims of it—join them as they wish. But let no healthcare professional take part in any way. Let it be absolutely clear to the community who are the healers, and who are the killers. It will become swiftly apparent that dealers of death often leave quite a mess; that they are not particularly concerned with the mess, but only in having someone else clean it up or cover it up; and that they expect the public to see nothing.
I predict that such an uprising by true healthcare professionals would lead to a rapid decrease in the practices of death. Perhaps when there is separation between these acts and the medical professionals who are currently involved in them, we will get enough honesty about the destruction being caused to make a difference. Real doctors and nurses will be able to think clearly about what their profession is about and why they chose to enter it. Unencumbered by the notion that it is their own colleagues who are the cause of death, they will feel perfectly free to discuss the pain and suffering being inflicted on others by death practitioners. Pathologists and medical examiners will be more willing to state clearly and succinctly the cause of death.
It will become clear that the legal delivery of death is a healthcare crisis requiring a serious response. Doctors and nurses, no longer operating in facilities that deal in both saving life and destroying it, will be freed from the shadow of evil that has hung over their lives and clouded their consciences. Administrators of true healthcare facilities no longer will be caught in the monetary conflict of interest brought on by dealing in both the restoration of health and the deliberate delivery of death.
The healthcare professions are rightly devoted to the restoration and maintenance of health. Deliberately delivering death is in direct opposition to these goals, and medical professionals should refuse to participate in acts that are so utterly incompatible with their profession. The best way out is a complete break; the best time is now.
Stephen J. Heaney is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul, MN.