Is a Physician Ever Obligated to Help a Patient Die?

Margaret Pabst Battin

in Ending Life

Published in print May 2005 | ISBN: 9780195140279
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199850280 | DOI:
Is a Physician Ever Obligated to Help a Patient Die?

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Is a physician ever obligated to help a patient die? If physician-assisted suicide were to become legal or legally tolerated, would the patient have a right to assistance, a right held against the physician for performance of this duty? In voter initiatives in Washington, California, and Oregon, in state legislative initiatives, in model statutes such as that of the Boston Working Group, and so on, all proposals have opt-out provisions, or “conscience clauses”, that permit physicians to refuse to participate in a suicide. But the basis of opt-out clauses — the ubiquitous assumption that a physician's scruples provide adequate justification, legally and morally, for excusing him or her from assisting in suicide — is rarely challenged. This chapter reviews the principal arguments for and against physician-assisted suicide in terminal illness. Two kinds of a dying patient's rights to assistance in suicide are considered: the “negative” right and the “positive” right. The moral argument in favor of permitting physician assistance in suicide is grounded in the conjunction of two principles: self-determination (or autonomy) and mercy (or the avoidance of suffering).

Keywords: Oregon; physicians; physician-assisted suicide; opt-out clauses; terminal illness; positive right; negative right; self-determination; mercy; autonomy

Chapter.  11216 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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