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A Middle Ground on Physician-Assisted Suicide

  • James A. Tulsky (a1), Ann Alpers (a2) and Bernard Lo (a3)

“[A] murder prosecution is a poor way to design an ethical and moral code for doctors,” observed the California Court of Appeal in 1983. Yet, physicians who have chosen to help terminally ill patients to commit suicide have trespassed on illegal ground. When skilled medical care fails to relieve the pain of terminally ill patients, some people believe that physicians may assist in these suicides. Others reject any kind of physician involvement. The debate on assisted suiczide and active euthanasia has focused on whether these acts can ever be acceptable. We propose to shift the debate to a less divisive issue: whether a caring physician who provides a suffering and ill patient with a prescription for a lethal dose of medication should be prosecuted as a felon. Even assisted suicide's opponents may object to such criminal prosecution. We propose to modify existing criminal laws to give physicians who assist their terminally ill patients in suicide, under carefully defined circumstances, a legal defense against criminal charges.

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Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
  • ISSN: 0963-1801
  • EISSN: 1469-2147
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-quarterly-of-healthcare-ethics
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