B. Steinbock, the Case for Physician Assisted Suicide: Not (Yet) Proven

Issues in Law & Medicine, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

B. Steinbock, the Case for Physician Assisted Suicide: Not (Yet) Proven


B. Steinbock, The Case for Physician Assisted Suicide: Not (Yet) Proven, 31 J. MED. ETHICS 235 (2005).

The legalization of physician assisted suicide (PAS) in Oregon and physician assisted death (PAD) in the Netherlands has revitalized the debate over whether and under what conditions individuals should be able to determine the time and manner of their deaths, and whether they should be able to enlist the help of physicians in doing so. Although the change in the law is both dramatic and recent, the basic arguments for and against have not really changed since the issue was debated by Glanville Williams and Yale Kamisar nearly fifty years ago. In this article, the author argues in favor of Kamisar's consequentialist framework. Any change in law and social policy should not be based on individual cases, heart wrenching though these may be. Instead, we must assess the need for PAS, and weigh this against the risks of mistake and abuse.

The question confronting society is not whether a particular individual is justified in wanting PAS. The broader question is the impact the change in the law will have on society. Assuming that some cases warrant PAS, is it possible to write legislation that will apply only to those individuals? Or will legislation passed out of compassion sweep up some who are not really tired of life, but think others are tired of them?

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