September 28, 1994

Physician-Assisted Death

Author Affiliations

Kennedy Institute of Ethics Georgetown University Washington, DC


edited by James M. Humber, Robert F. Almeder, and Gregg A. Kasting, (Biomedical Ethics Reviews, 1993), 155 pp, $39.50, ISBN 0-89603-265-5, Totowa, NJ, Humana Press, 1994.

JAMA. 1994;272(12):981-982. doi:10.1001/jama.1994.03520120091041

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This annual review of biomedical ethics is supposed to focus on physician-assisted death, although of the six essays, only those of Miller and Fletcher and of Thomasma do, and only Thomasma's really considers the ethical uniqueness of involving physicians.

Diane Meier's opening chapter provides a substantial review of the literature, but only, it turns out, of the survey literature, not of the philosophical, legal, ethical, or theological. Meier does as good a job as she can while pointing out that this literature poses enormous problems. Often response rates are low, sampling methods unclear, anonymity protection inadequate, and wording poor. Often, for instance, questions use ambiguous terms such as "assistance in dying," "right to end life," "hastening death," and "bringing about death." Each might be interpreted to refer to active intervention to cause death—an illegal act condemned by many professional, ethical, and religious groups including the AMA and the Catholic Church—but

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