Prof Robin Taylor, of the University of Otago Medical School,
has spoken out against voluntary euthanasia, telling
university graduates that arguments for this were
''fundamentally flawed'', though they might be ''subtly
An internationally respected researcher in respiratory
medicine, Prof Taylor reminded graduates of the Hippocratic
Oath and urged them not to ''contribute deliberately'' to the
death of a patient, even if this became legal.
Labour MP Maryan Street is promoting an ''End of Life Choice
Bill'', as a private member's initiative, which would allow
voluntary euthanasia, with a series of safeguards.
Prof Taylor urged each of the graduating doctors ''when the
time comes, as it probably will'' to refuse to ''contribute
deliberately'' to the death of any patients.
''I beg each of you to have the courage to stand firm and
uphold that core commitment of our professional lives, which
is to save life when we can, to relieve suffering when we
cannot, and never to contribute deliberately to the death of
any of our patients''.
He noted that the modern medical ''oath'' was based on the
Hippocratic Oath, which had said, in its original form: ''I
will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest
any such counsel."
Addressing about 260 graduates, mainly with qualifications in
medicine and medical laboratory science, at the Regent
Theatre, Dunedin, at a 1pm ceremony on Saturday, Prof Taylor
said he had spent the past three years involving himself in
end-of-life care and the need to do it better.
Public discussions about advanced care planning were bound to
increase and that was good.
''However, let us be clear: arguments in favour of ending the
life of a sufferer as a means of eliminating suffering are
fundamentally flawed, even though they may be subtly
''They are just as flawed as the argument that Hiroshima and
Nagasaki [atomic bomb targets] were justified in order to
shorten the Second World War.
''The landscape of geopolitical relationships changed
irrevocably with the advent of nuclear weapons.
''So, too, the relationship between doctors and their
patients would be irrevocably changed, especially for the
elderly, if legislation to facilitate assisted suicide were
to be enacted.
''This view is not just my own, but is the position held by
the New Zealand Medical Association."
He urged graduates to take a generous approach to public
service, including in developing nations abroad.
But he warned his ''young colleagues'' they were about to
enter a professional world that was often ''shaped by
self-preservation'' - also called ''covering your butt''.
As well as in individuals, this phenomenon was found in
institutions, and he referred to ''those forces'' that
operated in hospitals and universities, and in every other
large human organisation, to ''make us behave differently
when we are part of a bigger machine, to suppress our
consciences and to blunt our willingness to be
''It is a tragic mystery that when human beings get together
as an organisation, we become collectively conditioned to be
much less humane."
He reminded graduates of the biblical parable of the Good
The Good Samaritan had not only shown compassion in stopping
to help the stricken traveller, but ''more than that, he had
He urged graduates to ''have the moral courage to take risks
for the sake of others''.