Euthanasia and assisted suicide: a physician’s and ethicist’s perspectives
J Donald Boudreau,1 Margaret A Somerville2
1Faculty of Medicine, Department of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada; 2Faculty of Law, Faculty of Medicine, and Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
Abstract: The debate on legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide has a broad range of participants including physicians, scholars in ethics and health law, politicians, and the general public. It is conflictual, and despite its importance, participants are often poorly informed or confused. It is essential that health care practitioners are not among the latter. This review responds to the need for an up-to-date and comprehensive survey of salient ethical issues. Written in a narrative style, it is intended to impart basic information and review foundational principles helpful in ethical decision-making in relation to end-of-life medical care. The authors, a physician and an ethicist, provide complementary perspectives. They examine the standard arguments advanced by both proponents and opponents of legalizing euthanasia and note some recent legal developments in the matter. They consider an aspect of the debate often underappreciated; that is, the wider consequences that legalizing euthanasia might have on the medical profession, the institutions of law and medicine, and society as a whole. The line of argument that connects this narrative and supports their rejection of euthanasia is the belief that intentionally inflicting death on another human being is inherently wrong. Even if it were not, the risks and harms of legalizing euthanasia outweigh any benefits. Ethical alternatives to euthanasia are available, or should be, and euthanasia is absolutely incompatible with physicians' primary mandate of healing.
Keywords: euthanasia, physician assisted-suicide, healing, suffering, palliative care, palliative sedation
Corrigendum for this paper has been published
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