Medical and Moral Problems of Death and Dying
From the middle of the 19th century and as long as until almost recently medicine moved away from being a craft of treating the sick and aspired to be counted among natural sciences; and the more it did so the less was it interested in moral problems of death. A man doomed to die soon was not a welcome patient to a hospital, for he would only take up space and waste the time of the personnel if they wanted to help him in spite of his hopeless prognosis. Hospitals functioned as a sort of servicing workshops that agreed to repair human mechanism willingly only if they could have an assurance of a sufficient durability of the unit and if they thought that the repair could well be paid for with a prolonged satisfactory performance of the repaired mechanism. The handling of moral anguish of the dying was gladly bequeathed to the priests.
But the last years have witnessed a change in this situation. An opinion is gathering a growing acceptance that it is a duty of the medical professions to assuage moral and physical pains of the dying. Books have been written on this subject, students have analysed it in their dissertations, and in some hospital; separate wards have been created which specialize in extending services in this heretofore neglected branch of medicine.
Along with these changes a great majority of doctors strongly oppose the idea that the terrors of death may in any case be shortened by the doctor for the alleged benefit of the patient. They believe that every such act is a case of unwarranted surrender. A majority of doctors also oppose the view that a firm wish and a full consent to die authorize a doctor to help a distressed patient commit suicide. They even believe that giving a suggestion which may facilitate the act of suicide is wrong. Doctors are determined to find new means alleviating pain by developing a branch of medicine that may be called euthanatology or the art of good dying. The mitigation of pains occurring among the dying patients should be inasmuch a task of medical practice as is mitigating pains that occur in common diseases, post-operational states or parturition, and doctors begin to consider this duty as one of the foremost exigencies facing their profession at the present.