Bioethics Blogs

Physician-Assisted Suicide and the Medical Profession

 

BY G. KEVIN DONOVAN, MD, MA

Recently, Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed into law a bill authorizing physician-assisted suicide in that state. It now joins Oregon, Washington and Vermont as the only states that voted in such legislation. The legislation initially failed to pass, but was moved through by an unusual process in a special session of the legislature. It was clearly influenced by the Brittany Maynard case, a young woman from California who moved to Oregon for assisted suicide after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. She became the poster child for a campaign by Compassion and Choices to make physician-assisted suicide legal throughout the nation. It can be considered a huge public relations success, but a legislative failure for the most part.

In the past year, similar bills were introduced in 25 states plus the District of Columbia. So far, they have failed or stalled out everywhere, but California. When Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill, his stated reason was that he did not want himself or other Californians to die in pain, and therefore they should have the option for suicide when terminally ill. As a rationalization, it was somewhat disappointing, not least from a moral perspective from this former Jesuit seminarian. At some point he must have learned that suicide violates the Commandments, and assisting someone else to do so is even more morally problematic, because diminished capacity is less likely to be a mitigating factor for the cooperator. Even if this were not all true, it would be disappointing that the chief executive of the state had such a poor grasp of the additional issues that argue against physician assisted suicide.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.