The Spectacle Blog

Suicide Is Painless, Subjectively

By on 1.17.06 | 2:52PM

Poulos grants Justice Scalia his sensible definition of the phrase "legitimate medical purpose" but laments the cultural tendency toward legitimizing assisted suicide:

...we are making more of a culture of death with each passing year, and like it or not, a if a death-cultured definition of "legitimate medical purpose" has any meaning, it surely includes the prescription of drugs to produce death -- if that death is the desire of the patient. Every powerful force in the culture is pushing toward and reinforcing the definition of health as "the fulfilment of the desire of the patient."

Thankfully, though, words still have meaning and Scalia had Webster's at his side as he wrote his dissent:

Virtually every relevant source of authoritative meaning confirms that the phrase "legitimate medical purpose" does not include intentionally assisting suicide. "Medicine" refers to "[t]he science and art dealing with the prevention, cure, or alleviation of disease." Webster's Second 1527. ...

He also calls on medical authorities -- other objective experts:

...virtually every medical authority from Hippocrates to the current American Medi­cal Association (AMA) confirms that assisting suicide has seldom or never been viewed as a form of "prevention, cure, or alleviation of disease," and (even more so) that assisting suicide is not a "legitimate" branch of that "sci­ence and art." ...

Yet Scalia's critique cuts deeper than Justice Kennedy's absurd definition of "legitimate medical purpose."

The only explanation for such a distortion is that the Court confuses the normative inquiry of what the boundaries of medicine should be-which it is laudably hesitant to undertake-with the objective inquiry of what the accepted definition of "medicine" is.

Scalia's is a world in which words have meanings that cannot be altered by will or Supreme Court opinion. Medicine could deteriorate to a point at which the word "medicine" is fundamentally changed (and acknowledged as such by Webster's) and physician-assisted suicide is legitimate. But fortunately, we aren't there yet.

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