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Guidelines for Physician-Assisted Suicide: Can the Challenge Be Met?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2021


The question of legalizing physician-assisted suicide (PAS) has become a serious public debate. Growing interest in assisted suicide reflects a public increasingly fearful of the process of dying, particularly the prospect of dying a painful, protracted, or undignified death. PAS has been proposed as a compassionate response to unrelievable suffering, designed to give terminally or incurably ill individuals direct control over the timing, manner, and circumstances of their death. Although the American Medical Association remains firmly opposed to legalizing PAS, many physicians have begun to express support for the practice, and some have acknowledged that they have helped patients commit suicide despite the existing legal ban.

As support for PAS grows, it becomes increasingly likely that the practice will be legalized in at least some states in the not-too-distant future. In 1994, Oregon voters approved a referendum legalizing PAS for competent, terminally ill patients; a federal court injunction preventing the referendum from going into effect is currently on appeal, and it is widely expected that the injunction will be lifted.

Copyright © American Society of Law, Medicine and Ethics 1996

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