Hippocrates is the wrong authority in this case

Jeff Jacoby (What about do no harm?” Op-ed, Oct. 17) says that Hippocrates would reject Question 2. No surprise. As Robert Veatch of the Kennedy Institute of Medical Ethics has observed, “The old Hippocratic ethic saw the patient as a weak, debilitated, childlike victim, incapable of functioning as a real moral agent.” Until very recently medical paternalism characterized the attitude of too many American physicians. Doctors believed they could force life-preserving treatment on non-consenting, competent, terminally ill patients if the doctor believed refusal of treatment was “medically irrational.”

As a lawyer, teacher, and scholar, I was very much involved in the movement to establish the right of patients to decide for themselves when enough was enough. As a cancer patient, I am personally committed to the effort to have Question 2 enacted into law.

Since 1997, the Oregon Death With Dignity law on which Question 2 is modeled has allowed willing doctors to prescribe, for a willing, competent, terminally ill patient, medication that can be used if and when the patient has decided that he or she no longer wishes to soldier on. Jacoby and other opponents of Question 2 report no abuses of that law, or of its counterpart in Washington, because there have been none. The only explanation for their opposition is that they wish to force their ideology on others.

Charles Baron


The writer is professor emeritus of law at Boston College and visiting professor of law at Roger Williams University.