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JAMA 100 Years Ago
October 22/29, 2003


Author Affiliations

JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.

JAMA. 2003;290(16):2200. doi:10.1001/jama.290.16.2200-a

Every little while some misguided philanthropist comes out with a proposition to shorten the period of suffering of hopeless invalids, by gently putting them out of the way. The latest is from a New York clergyman in an address before a medical body. It is said that about one-third of the audience applauded him, but the applause, we take it, was not shown for this particular sentiment, but for the orator or the oratory. There is only one point of view the medical man can take on this subject, viz., that he has no right to trifle with a human life or shorten it by a second. Surely no thinking person can take any other stand. If it should be considered right to assist people out of the world on the pretense of saving them from suffering, the possibilities of using this plea by unscrupulous persons would become appalling. There are enough ways to relieve suffering without compromising life, and only such are legitimate. It is true that some people seem to live too long and that, on a purely utilitarian basis, old people past their productive period could be easily disposed of, but this is not the tendency of modern civilization. Any civilization that adopted such a course would be taking a long step backward toward savagery.