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Are Abortion, Physician-Assisted Suicide, and Euthanasia “Medical Practice”?

Michael Egnor
Photo credit: Piron Guillaume, via Unsplash.

In an essay in Slate in March 2020, Dahlia Lithwick bemoaned a legal strategy to protect women and unborn children from abortion. Her commentary was on the legal case of June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, decided by the Supreme Court, which ultimately rejected by a vote of 5 to 4 the constitutionality of a Louisiana law that required abortionists to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of their abortion clinic. 

The legal issues raised are labyrinthine, although the principles are very straightforward. Louisiana required abortionists to be close enough to a hospital in which they had admitting privileges to protect the safety of the women undergoing abortion. Regulations of this nature are common for physicians performing dangerous procedures outside of a hospital setting and the rationale is quite obvious. Should a woman who was a victim of abortion suffer severe bleeding during the procedure, it is obviously vitally important that she be near a hospital and that the doctor involved in the procedure have privileges at that hospital to care for the complication caused. The law also had the effect of making it more difficult for abortionists to commit abortions in Louisiana which obviously protects unborn children who would otherwise be their victims. 

The Heart of the Issue

Abortion proponents characteristically lobbied against the safety and welfare of women just as they of course lobby against the lives of the children who are aborted. Lithwick inadvertently gets to the heart of the issue:

Once again, women’s reproductive freedom is more concerned with doctors than women. Following the briefing and oral arguments in June Medical, the Louisiana case that calls into question the continued force of Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Whole Woman’s Health, it’s now quite clear that the primary questions opponents of reproductive freedom are asking have nothing to do with maternal autonomy or decision-making, and everything to do with abortion providers and whether they are bad people and unfit doctors.

That abortionists are unfit doctors is self-evident. The practice of medicine by its very nature precludes the deliberate taking of innocent human life. Deliberate killing is never a medical procedure, and merely because a licensed physician commits it for profit in a legally sanctioned environment doesn’t make abortion a bona fide medical treatment.

The Nature of Medical Practice

The medical profession should take a clear stand on this issue: doctors who deliberately kill — whether by abortion or by physician-assisted suicide or by euthanasia — are not practicing medicine when they kill. Medical practice always entails the maintenance of health, the treatment of disease, and the relief of suffering. Ending the life of a patient or of the child in his mother’s womb is neither the maintenance of health nor treatment of a disease nor the alleviation of any suffering. It is simply the killing of an innocent unwanted child.

I am realistic, of course, and I realize that in our current political and moral environment the practice of abortion will continue to be sanctioned widely by the medical profession. Abortion is generally sanctioned in the U.S., physician-assisted suicide is gaining acceptance in many nations and is permitted in several states, and euthanasia has been accepted in many countries and undoubtably will eventually be accepted in the United States. Their acceptance as medical practice is a grave development and reflects shame on our culture and particularly shame on the medical profession. 

If abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia are to be sanctioned in our rapidly degenerating culture, I plead with the medical profession to wash its hands of any kind of deliberate killing. If the American people insist upon abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia, doctors as healers should refuse to play any role.