University of Pittsburgh

Alan Meisel on Doctor Assistance in Ending Life

Publish Date/Time: 
April 5, 2013

Professor Alan Meisel's commentary on doctor-assisted suicide appeared in the March 30 Sunday Review in the New York Times online.  Professor Meisel's comments:

Should it be legal for doctors to help end dying patients’ lives?

Those who oppose legalizing aid in dying assert several reasons for doing so. One is that it is inhumane and immoral to take the life of another person. Another is that there will be abuse. A third is that pain and suffering can always be medically relieved.

Similar arguments were made almost 40 years ago when the Karen Ann Quinlan case arose. That was the first case to assert that there should be a legal right to have life-sustaining medical treatment withheld or withdrawn. In that case, opponents claimed that discontinuing life support was the equivalent of murder or manslaughter and that it would violate medical ethics for doctors to participate.

The New Jersey Supreme Court wisely ruled otherwise. Subsequent history has shown that doctors, in consultation with patients or their families, are able to make the fine discriminations necessary to assure that there is no abuse. Consequently, patients whose life-sustaining medical treatment can be withheld or withdrawn are now spared the pain, suffering, dependence and indignity of being kept “alive” indefinitely against their will.

While palliative medicine has improved tremendously in the last decade or two, there are still cases in which it is not up to the task of relieving pain and suffering, and it will never be able to end the dependence and indignity of many end-of-life situations.

Read the full New York Times piece here.  

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