a1 an assistant professor of Medical Education at the Center for Biomedical Ethics, University of Virginia, Charlottesville
The problem of physician-assisted death (PAD), assisted suicide and active euthanasia, has been debated predominantly in the ethically familiar vocabulary of rights, duties, and consequences. Patient autonomy and the right to die with dignity vie with the duty of physicians to heal, but not to kill, and the specter of “the slippery slope” from voluntary euthanasia as a last resort for patients suffering from terminal illness to PAD on demand and mercy killing of “hopeless” incompetent patients. Another dimension of the debate over PAD concerns the evaluative question of what constitutes a good death. At stake are Issues of character and virtue in the face of death and dying and their Implications for legitimizing the practice of PAD. Critics of PAD argue that “natural” death in the context of comfort care, as provided by hospice programs, is the good death. In contrast, PAD amounts to an easy way out, an evasion of the ultimate human challenge and task of dying. Because hospice care is clearly preferable to PAD, the former should be encouraged and the latter remain prohibited.