Is a Physician ever Obligated to Help a Patient Die?
Rosamond Rhodes, PhD, Director of Bioethics Education at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, wrote in her chapter, "Physicians, Assisted Suicide, and the Right to Live or Die," that appeared in the 1998 book Physician Assisted Suicide: Expanding the Debate:
"A doctor's commitment to acting for patients' good creates a clear obligation to help a patient avoid an agonizing, protracted death. Allowing a patient to suffer when the suffering could be ended is an obvious violation of the duty of beneficence...
Sometimes, because of special features of the need, or because of the special relationship, or because of the uniqueness of the knowledge involved, a physician may have a professional obligation to assist in a suicide or perform euthanasia."
Margaret Battin, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of Utah, wrote in her chapter, "Is a Physician Ever Obligated to Help a Patient Die?" that appeared in the 1998 book Regulating How We Die: The Ethical, Medical, and Legal Issues Surrounding Physician-Assisted Suicide:
"It is my view that even the physician with the most profound moral scruples against physician-assisted suicide can, in certain circumstances, incur an obligation to provide this assistance... I hasten to add that I support the legal recognition of opt-out provisions... But that does not mean that a physician has no moral obligation to help, even if there is no legal one... Where the patient's request really does originate in autonomy and in the claim to mercy, it does mean that the physician is obligated not to entrap the patient into compliance with the physician's values rather than the patient's own values."
Eric J. Cassell, MD, Clinical Professor of Public Health at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, wrote in his chapter "When Suffering Patients Seek Death," that appeared in the 2004 book Physician-Assisted Dying: The Case for Palliative Care and Patient Choice:
"When terminally ill patients request assistance in dying because of their suffering, and their request meets commonly endorsed safeguards, their request should be honored. Those who disagree...should feel no compulsion to give aid in dying. I do not believe that palliative care or hospice programs should publicly support assisted death... This does not relieve individual physicians of the responsibility to help their suffering patients, even if that help includes assistance in dying when their suffering is unendurable and beyond relief."
Edmund Pellegrino, MD, Director of the Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University, wrote in his chapter, "The False Promise of Beneficent Killing," that appeared in the 1998 book Regulating How We Die: The Ethical, Medical, and Legal Issues Surrounding Physician-Assisted Suicide:
"Euthanasia and assisted suicide are not ethical obligations of physicians... The prohibition against physician participation in euthanasia and assisted suicide has been elemental in the traditional ethics of medicine for a long time... These acts [euthanasia and assisted suicide] are far from being established morally or accepted professionally."
Leon Kass, MD, PhD, former Chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, wrote in his chapter, "'I Will Give No Deadly Drug': Why Doctors Must Not Kill," that appeared in the 2002 book The Case Against Assisted Suicide: For the Right to End-of-Life Care:
"Medicine surely owes patients assistance in their dying process--to relieve their pain, discomfort, and distress. This is simply part of what it means to seek to relieve suffering, always an essential part of caring for the living, including when they are in the process of their dying. But medicine has never, under anyone's interpretation, been charged with producing or achieving death itself. Physicians cannot be serving their art or helping their patients--whether regarded as human beings or as persons--by making them disappear."
Bernard Baumrin, MD, PhD, Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York, wrote in his chapter, "Physician, Stay Thy Hand!" that appeared in the 1998 book Physician Assisted Suicide: Expanding the Debate:
"Anyone claiming a right to physician assistance in dying must show that some physician has a duty to satisfy that right...
Nothing, absolutely nothing, requires that physicians be the instruments of suicide aid... The physician's task is to tell the patient...what's wrong, and to the best of the doctor's ability, what is going to happen. The physician's job is to heal the sick, to stave off death, and to say as best as he or she can what the future will be like for each particular patient. The physician gets to be the helpless person's medical guide because he or she is trusted to hold the patient's good uppermost, and the patient's good does not include death."