Well, now, here's an interesting development: Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, a hospital bioethicist named Dr. Lisa Lehmann and her co-author struggle to find a (final) solution to the shortage of doctors willing to write lethal prescriptions for patients. What to do? What to do?
Their idea is to make doctors unnecessary to the deadly transaction in order to make it easier to get 'er done. Instead, a doctor would simply do doctor-ly things like giving his patient a diagnosis and a prognosis. The patient would then take this information to a "central state or federal" location, where a non-physician of some sort, a government employee, would dispense the deadly medication. Neat, huh?
Now, this idea is pretty much a suicide clinic idea. The only thing that might make a difference to the accuracy of that name is that perhaps the patient would take the lethal dosage home and take it himself. But who knows? Lehmann & co. envisage the bureaucrats as "monitor[ing] demand and use," so I suppose there's no reason in principle why the government hub couldn't also provide a place for you to be bumped off on-site.
In any event, here's a question that raises some interesting thoughts: Would such a switch--to non-physicians prescribing and even doling out suicide doses--be culturally better or worse than physician-assisted suicide?
Some might argue that it would actually be better. For, they might say, the medical profession shouldn't be in the business of killing patients. De-medicalizing assisted suicide removes the air of medical prestige and shows it for the naked act of killing that it is rather than a medical act. Moreover, having the government do it directly might scare people into realizing how creepy this all is--the government is directly killing its sickest and most vulnerable citizens. (Gives a whole new meaning to Ronald Reagan's dictum about the most frightening words in the world: "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you.") Which might make people rethink assisted suicide altogether.
In fact, it seems to me somewhat unlikely that the majority of pro-assisted suicide types actually will embrace Lehmann's idea. What they probably would like to do is to have non-physicians who are still medical people, such as nurse practitioners and physicians' assistants, dispense the prescription and pills, but my guess from the way that the pro-death crowd has handled the abortion issue is that they would still like to have the prestige of the medical profession associated with the act of suicide. As in (cue lofty tone), "Who are you to interfere between a suicidal person and his doctor?" If they can make all medical people direct government employees, as many leftists would like to do, the distinction may seem to be moot, but I think they would still rhetorically prefer a medical prescriber rather than an entirely non-medical bureaucrat.
Moreover, let's remember that part of the goal here is the corruption of the medical profession itself, and if we just let non-medical bureaucrats dispense prescriptions for death, we'd have a bit less of that effect. Why, some pro-life doctors might even be let off the hook from being involved.
With all that being said, you might think that I am going to say that I almost wish we could strip away the mask and go straight to Lehmann's government death clinic idea.
But I'm not going to say that.
First, this idea would make things worse for the very reason that makes it attractive to death-lovers like Lehmann: It would bring about more assisted suicides. Some doctors evidently still have a conscience about this. Lehmann is annoyed by that and wants to break free of of physician involvement so that more assisted suicides can take place. So obviously it's a horrible idea. This is related to Wesley J. Smith's point that the government death bureaucrats will almost certainly never say no. Cost-cutting will be what they are all about.
Second, the involvement of government would almost certainly make accountability in cases of coercion that much more difficult. If granny is dragged into a government clinic and you think she was killed against her will, who is going to listen to you? Will a local prosecutor really be able to prosecute a bureaucrat at the federal death clinic? Or even the state death clinic?
Third, it is intrinsically even worse for the government to be directly and deliberately killing its vulnerable and innocent citizens than for private persons to be doing so. (This is one reason why pro-lifers have fought so hard against federal funding for Planned Parenthood.)
Fourth, if you care about that sort of thing, federal clinics would have to involve either a deliberate congressional modification of the controlled substances act (which corrupts Congress) or a deliberate decision by federal prosecutors to turn a blind eye to the evident gross abuse of federally controlled substances (which corrupts federal prosecutors, as has already happened in the case of individual states that allow assisted suicide but in a federal suicide plan would happen all over the country). Whether there should be federal controlled substances acts in the first place is one question (which we aren't going to debate here). Whether such an act should be left in place while a grotesque exception is made for the government's killing the elderly and inconvenient should be a no-brainer.
As a general rule, if you are ever tempted to say, "Maybe we should hurry up and let it get worse so that it can get better," think again. As conservatives, our job is to do all we can to prevent it from getting worse. If it does get worse, we can be quite confident that it won't get any better for a long, long time.
I don't know whether we'll get government suicide clinics (or dispensing facilities) or not. Maybe not. But it's worth knowing that the death-lovers are contemplating the idea.