Legalizing physician-assisted suicide: some thoughts and concerns.
Surveys show that most Americans favor the decriminalization of physician-assisted suicide in certain circumstances. Several states are now considering legislation to bring this about and make the United States the first place in the civilized world where physician aid in dying is sanctioned. In the Netherlands, where physician-assisted suicide is practiced but officially remains illegal, 85% of assisted suicides occur in the elderly, and most involve the help of general practitioners. In the United States, family physicians provide health care to many older adults with chronic or terminal illness whose numbers will increase as the elderly population expands. The legalization of physician-assisted suicide would affect the way American physicians practice medicine in unpredictable ways, yet physicians are participating relatively little in deliberations concerning this issue. The problem of suffering in persons with chronic and terminal illness cannot be ignored. Compassionate, effective, and ethical solutions must be found. As a former family physician and now geriatric psychiatrist, I review the pros and cons of physician-assisted suicide (emphasizing arguments against legalization) and encourage family physicians to debate this matter.
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