The practice of medically assisted dying has long been contentious, and the question of what to call it has become increasingly contentious as well. Particularly among U.S. proponents of legalizing the practice, there has been a growing push away from calling it “physician-assisted suicide,” with assertions that medically assisted dying is fundamentally different from suicide. Digging deeper into this claim about difference leads to an examination of the difference between two kinds of suffering—suffering from physical conditions and suffering from psychological conditions—and therefore leads also toward an examination of whether requests for medical assistance in dying by those suffering from psychological conditions and those suffering from physical conditions should be painted with the same brush .
In this article, I aim both to illuminate some of the considerations that ought to be included in discussions related to medically assisted dying and to shed light on what the indirect effects of such discussions can be. I consider some of the reasons commonly given for holding that suicide and medically assisted dying differ fundamentally and then whether the conclusion that medically assisted dying should not be called “suicide” follows from the premises. I ask what else might justify the conclusion that the two acts ought to be called by different names, and I examine possible justifications for accepting this premise, as well as what justifications might exist for emphasizing how the acts are alike. Finally, I argue that we should be cautious before concluding that medically assisted dying should not be called “suicide.” We need more evidence either that the two acts are fundamentally different or that emphasizing differences between them is not likely to do more harm than good .
In a recent article Joshua James Hatherley argues that, if physician-assisted suicide (PAS) is morally permissible for patients suffering from somatic illnesses, it should be permissible for psychiatric patients as well. He argues that psychiatric disorders do not necessarily impair decision-making ability, that they are not necessarily treatable and that legalising PAS for psychiatric patients would not diminish research and therapeutic interest in psychiatric treatments or impair their recovery through loss of hope. However, by erasing distinction between somatic and psychiatric disorders on those grounds, he also erases distinction between healthy adults and patients (whether somatic or psychiatric) essentially implying that PAS should be available to all, for all reasons or, ultimately no reason. Furthermore, as psychiatric patients are much more likely to be a source of usable organs for transplantation, their broad inclusion would strengthen the link between PAS/euthanasia and organ donation, potentially undermining both as well as diminishing already declining general trust in medical authorities and professionals and public health authorities and activists.
On 26 February 2020, the German Constitutional Court rejected a law from 2015 that prohibited any form of ‘business-like’ assisted suicide as unconstitutional. The landmark ruling of the highest federal court emphasised the high priority given to the rights of autonomy and free personal development, both of which constitute the principle of human dignity, the first principle of the German constitution. The ruling echoes particularities of post-war Germany’s end-of-life debate focusing on patient self-determination while rejecting any discussion of active assistance to die through a lethal injection administered by a doctor. This brief report discusses the ruling in the light of the broader sociopolitical and historical context of the German end-of-life debate.
Since Oregon implemented its Death with Dignity Act, many additional states have followed suit demonstrating a growing understanding and acceptance of aid in dying (AID) processes. Traditionally, the patient has been the one to request and seek this option out. However, as Death with Dignity acts continue to expand, it will impact the role of physicians and bring up questions over whether physicians have the ethical obligation to facilitate a conversation about AID with patients during end of life discussions. Patients have the right to make informed decisions about their health, which implies that physicians have an obligation to discuss with and inform patients of the options that will accomplish the patients’ goals of care. We will argue that physicians have an ethical obligation to inform certain patients about AID (in qualifying states) during end of life care discussions. We will also address what this obligation encompasses and explore guidelines of when and how these conversations should occur and proceed. Earlier guidelines, presented by various palliative care and ethics experts, for proceeding with such conversations have mostly agreed that the discussion of hospice and end of life care with patients should be initiated early and that the individual goals of a patient during the remaining duration of life should be thoroughly examined before discussion of appropriate options. In discussing AID, physicians should never recommend but inform patients about the basics so that they can make an informed decision. If patients express further interest in AID, the physician should open up the dialogue to address the reasoning behind this decision versus other possible treatments to ensure that patients clearly comprehend the process and implications of their decision. Ultimately, any end of life choice should be made by patients with the full capacity to express what they envision for the remaining duration of life and to comprehend the advantages and disadvantages of all the possible options.
François Lambert, proche de Vincent Lambert, propose son témoignage sur l'euthanasie, le suicide assisté et la fin de vie. Devenu avocat, l'auteur dévoile les coulisses de la lutte entre les membres de sa famille.
Ce livre constitue une enquête sur l'affaire Vincent Lambert, homme en état végétatif autour duquel sa famille se déchire à coups de procédure judiciaire. En révélant les dimensions politique et romanesque de ce drame familial, elle pose également les questions éthiques de la fin de vie, de l'euthanasie et du suicide assisté.
In this paper, we propose and defend three economic arguments for permitting assisted dying. These arguments are not intended to provide a rationale for legalising assisted suicide or euthanasia in and of themselves; rather, they are supplementary arguments that should not be neglected when considering the ethics of assisted dying. The first argument is that permitting assisted dying allows consenting patients to avoid negative quality-adjusted life years, enabling avoidance of suffering. The second argument is that the resources consumed by patients who are denied assisted dying could instead be used to provide additional (positive) quality-adjusted life years for patients elsewhere in the healthcare system who wish to continue living and to improve their quality of life. The third argument is that organ donation may be an additional potential source of quality-adjusted life years in this context. We also anticipate and provide counterarguments to several objections to our thesis. Taken together, the cumulative avoidance of negative quality-adjusted life years and gain in positive quality-adjusted life years suggest that permitting assisted dying would substantially benefit both the small population that seeks assisted suicide or euthanasia, and the larger general population. As such, denying assisted dying is a lose–lose situation for all patients.
Canada’s government has tabled new legislation that would remove some of the restrictions placed on medical aid in dying, most notably the requirement that applicants suffer from a terminal condition which makes their death “reasonably foreseeable.”
The new bill will also permit eligible patients to ask for a medically assisted death in advance directives—and to have that wish respected even if they are no longer mentally able to give informed consent at time of death.
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Background: Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) was legalized in Canada in June, 2016. The Canadian government's decision to legislate assisted dying, an approach that requires a high degree of obligation, precision, and delegation, has resulted in unique challenges for health care and for nursing practice. The purpose of this study was to better understand the implications of a legislated approach to assisted death for nurses' experiences and nursing practice.
Methods: The study used a qualitative approach guided by Interpretive Description. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 59 registered nurses and nurse practitioners. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and managed using qualitative analysis software. Analysis followed a procedure of data immersion, open coding, constant comparative analysis, and the construction of a thematic and interpretive account.
Results: Nurses in this study described great variability in how MAiD had been enacted in their work context and the practice supports available to guide their practice. The development of systems to support MAiD, or lack thereof, was largely driven by persons in influential leadership positions. Workplaces that supported a range of nurses' moral responses to MAiD were most effective in supporting nurses' well-being during this impactful change in practice. Participants cited the importance of teamwork in providing high quality MAiD-related care; although, many worked without the benefit of a team. Nursing work related to MAiD was highly complex, largely because of the need for patient-centered care in systems that were not always organized to support such care. In the absence of adequate practice supports, some nurses were choosing to limit their involvement in MAiD.
Conclusions: Data obtained in this study suggested that some workplace contexts still lack the necessary supports for nurses to confidently meet the precision required of a legislated approach to MAiD. Without accessible palliative care, sufficient providers, a supportive team, practice supports, and a context that allowed nurses to have a range of responses to MAiD, nurses felt they were legally and morally at risk. Nurses seeking to provide the compassionate care consistent with such a momentous moment in patients' lives, without suitable supports, find themselves caught between the proverbial rock and hard place.
Medical assistance in dying (MAID) and similar right-to-die laws are becoming increasingly common in jurisdictions across North America and elsewhere. To be eligible for MAID in Canada, requesters must have a serious illness, intolerable suffering, and a reasonably foreseeable natural death. They must also undergo two assessments to confirm eligibility. While a growing body of literature now exists to help clinicians understand and support patients around requests for assisted death, a dearth of literature exists on how best to support those patients who are deemed ineligible. Here, we report on a case series of 3 patients who attempted suicide after being found ineligible for MAID. Two patients were ineligible because they did not appear to have reasonably foreseeable natural death. The third patient was ineligible due to concerns around decisional capacity. All three cases had previous diagnoses of depressive disorders and mild cognitive impairment, and two had histories of suicide attempts. In at-risk patients, we speculate that the period of time surrounding a finding of MAID ineligibility may represent a period of particular vulnerability. Clinicians must be vigilant and prepared for the possibility of heightened risk, including risk of self-harm, following a finding of ineligibility for assisted death.
In the September issue of the American Journal of Bioethics, Kious and Battin present their arguments on why physician aid-in-dying (PAD) due to severe suffering should also be allowed in non-terminal psychiatric diseases. The authors argue that a crucial aspect of PAD is the assessment of the decision-making capacity. Furthermore, they elaborate on the incompatibility of current PAD regulations and compulsory treatment because of suicidality, emphasizing differences between European, Canadian, and US-American policies. They differentiate between possible pathways the discussion about laws and policies concerning medically assisted dying could lead to. Firstly, keep the status quo, requiring a terminal illness, without considering the suffering caused by mental illness. Secondly, a change toward a partial opening of PAD for people with mental illness if their decision-making capacity is intact. This approach would require a change in policies regarding assisted dying while at the same time changing the involuntary civil commitment practices. The third approach devises a metric to measure suffering. While allowing patients who reach the threshold of unbearable suffering to access PAD, people with lower scores of suffering would fall under the policies of involuntary civil commitment and treatment. This third approach poses difficult questions concerning the nature of an instrument to determine suffering, the definition of suffering and its thresholds, and about the authority of the gatekeeper determining whether a person qualifies for PAD.
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On June 19, 2019, euthanasia legislation in Victoria, Australia, came into effect. The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 (Vic) allows individuals whose life expectancy is 6 months or less to seek medical assistance to end their life. Patients with certain progressive neurodegenerative conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or motor neuron disease, can apply within 1 year of their expected death. People with conditions that might hinder their decision-making capacity, such as advanced Alzheimer's disease, are excluded, as are people who have a mental illness or disability, without a terminal illness. By Dec 31, 2019, 52 people had voluntarily ended their lives using the new legislation.
The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) will continue to oppose a change in the law on assisted dying, having conducted a survey of its members.
The decision was ratified by the college’s governing council on 21 February. The RCGP said that 6674 members responded to its survey on assisted dying, a 13.47% response rate.
Of those who responded, 47% (3144) said that the RCGP should oppose a change in the law on assisted dying. A further 40% of respondents (2684) said that the RCGP should support a change in the law on assisted dying provided a regulatory framework and appropriate safeguarding processes are in place, 11% (701) said that the college should have a neutral position, and 2% (145) abstained.
For the first time, the BMA is asking its members what position it should take on assisted dying. The results of the survey will be made available to BMA members ahead of this year’s annual representative meeting (ARM) in June. They will inform a debate and a vote at the meeting regarding the BMA’s policy position.
Since 2006 the BMA has opposed assisted dying in all forms. Its policy says that neither physician assisted suicide nor voluntary euthanasia should be made legal in the UK. In 2016, representatives at the association’s ARM rejected a motion calling on the BMA to adopt a neutral position.
Physician-assisted death is becoming legal in an increasing number of jurisdictions, but psychiatric patients are often explicitly excluded. However, in some countries, including the Netherlands, physician-assisted death of psychiatric patients is allowed. This Open Forum describes a patient with schizophrenia and symptoms diagnosed as refractory musical hallucinations. The patient requested assistance in dying only to recover after a mandatory second opinion, where his complaints were recognized as intrusive thoughts and treated accordingly. This case is used to reflect on how to deal with uncertainty about physician-assisted death of psychiatric patients and to argue for implementation of a due-diligence procedure, such as the one proposed in the Dutch Psychiatric Association's recent guideline concerning this issue.
Several longitudinal studies show that over time the American public has become more approving of euthanasia and suicide for terminally ill persons. Yet, these previous findings are limited because they derive from biased estimates of disaggregated hierarchical data. Using insights from life course sociological theory and cross-classified logistic regression models, I better account for this liberalization process by disentangling the age, period, and cohort effects that contribute to longitudinal changes in these attitudes. The results of the analysis point toward a continued liberalization of both attitudes over time, although the magnitude of change was greater for suicide compared with euthanasia. More fluctuation in the probability of supporting both measures was exhibited for the age and period effects over the cohort effects. In addition, age-based differences in supporting both measures were found between men and women and various religious affiliations.
AIM: To investigate palliative care nurse attitudes towards medical assistance in dying.
DESIGN: An exploratory cross-sectional study design.
METHODS: A mailed letter recruited participants with data collection occurring on a secure online survey platform between November 2017-February 2018. Data analyses included descriptive and bivariate statistics and stepwise linear regression.
RESULTS: Palliative care nurse attitudes towards medical assistance in dying were explained by perceived expertise in the social domain of palliative care, personal importance of religion/faith, professional importance of religion/faith, and nursing designation.
CONCLUSION: This study reveals the perceived importance of religion, versus religious affiliation alone, as significant in influencing provider attitudes towards assisted dying. Further research is needed to understand differences in attitudes between Registered Nurses and Registered Practical Nurses and how the social domain of palliative care influences nurse attitude.
IMPACT: Organizations must prioritize nursing input, encourage open interprofessional dialogue and provide support for ethical decision-making, practice decisions, and conscientious objection surrounding medical assistance in dying. Longitudinal nursing studies are needed to understand the impact of legislation on quality and person-centred end-of-life care and the emotional well-being/retention of palliative care nurses.