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January 19, 2016

Why Physicians Should Oppose Assisted Suicide

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Health Administration and Policy, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia
  • 2Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities & History of Medicine, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
JAMA. 2016;315(3):247-248. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.16194

Is physician-assisted suicide ever justifiable? —No.

“Physician assisted suicide is fundamentally inconsistent with the physician's professional role,” according to a long-standing position of the American Medical Association.1 That we are debating this question of whether physician-assisted suicide (or “physician-assisted death”) is ever justifiable shows how far medicine has shifted toward redefining the role of physician. If the medical profession accepts physician-assisted suicide, it will be declaring decisively that “physicians” are mere providers of services, to be guided only by the desires of the individual patient, the will of the state or other third parties, and what the law allows. The idea of medicine as a profession, which embodies a shared commitment to care for persons who are sick and debilitated so as to restore their health, will quickly fade into memory. Those made vulnerable by sickness and debility, to whom physicians owe their solidarity as physicians, will have much less reason to entrust themselves to physicians’ care.

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