Doctors who practice good medical ethics understand their role in dispensing health care. Death and social engineering are not their areas of competence or responsibility. The individual who is sick is their responsibility, not society at large. They recognize the possibility of wrong diagnosis, non-infallible prognosis (where the doomed patient survived). And the possibility of a new cure, all of which prompt them to be cautious in their practice.

According to Edwin L. Lisson in his Linacre Quarterly article, “Medical personnel commonly speak of medications and treatments in terms such as conservative or aggressive, standard or experimental, ordinary or heroic.” When a patient presents himself to a doctor or hospital he obviously wants and needs help. Whatever the treatment prescribed, it should be given with the reasonable hope that it will benefit the patient and, above all, will do no harm. The good health of the patients is the proper expectation for the doctor and the patient.

Patients in need have a right to conservative, standard, ordinary care. They also have a right to aggressive, heroic care if they consent to it and if it is available. They can even consent to experimental measures, if they so choose. However, they have a right to refuse aggressive, heroic or experimental treatment (surgery, chemotherapy etc.) and still retain the right to conservative, standard ordinary care. To abandon the suffering patient because he refuses, extraordinary treatment is to burn one’s back on his basic needs. This is bad health care. A good doctor has no trouble in recognizing the difference between prolonging the act of dying. This is all part of the art and science of practicing medicine. Lay people should be very careful about choosing a physician, and then they should trust him with the responsibility for their health care.

When the doctor asks “Should we treat?” rather than “How should we treat?” he is into euthanasia which kills the patient. Sometimes it will only be the doctor who knows if his intention was to give a needle to relieve pain or an overdose to kill the patient, or whether it was his intention to disconnect the machine because it was not longer helping the patient or whether he intended to kill.