Physician Assisted Suicide: A Dilemma for Medical Professionals

Doctors take oaths to “do no harm,” making many wonder how recent changes in physician-assisted suicide laws in some states may pose a conflict. As more states adopt laws that enable doctors to become involved in helping competent, terminal patients end their own lives, not everyone in the medical profession is fully comfortable with the turn in direction. Even so, recent statistics show in areas where these laws are in place, very few patients actually choose to follow through.

Numbers out of Washington State show the overall rate of physician involvement is very low. In 2014, only 176 prescriptions for legal doses of medication were written. Of those patients, 76 percent had terminal cancer. Out of the total group, only 126 patients actually chose to ingest the medication, meaning the rest had a change of heart.

Rather than focus on the issue of physician-assisted suicide solely, some medical professionals are urging their colleagues to place priorities on making sure this option is only exercised when a patient may find it truly necessary and the medical condition genuinely warrants giving a patient such as choice. To that end, some doctors are pushing for:

  • Rigorous checking to determine if a patient’s prognosis is accurate. After all, doctors can be wrong.
  • Enhanced palliative care to ensure patients are as comfortable as possible if, and when, end-of-life concerns become imminent.
  • Better education about the procedure involved in legally ending a life and the associated costs.

While physician-assisted suicide may pose an ethical dilemma for physicians, many states are adopting laws that allow it. That means doctors will have to continue to grapple with the question with some finding the option violates their ethics. Patients in these scenarios may also find the choice isn’t an easy one to make. Rather than rush headlong into the action, it is recommended that doctors and patients alike weigh the options, check and double check prognosis and then make decisions about appropriateness. There is simply no easy answer to the dilemma.

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