The Need to Discuss Death-Hastening Methods

Stuart Chambers discusses an oversight in the Report by the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying.


The Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying recently released its Report titled Medical Assistance in Dying: A Patient-Centred Approach. The Report has received much praise for being inclusive and comprehensive. For instance, Jocelyn Downie, a Professor in the Faculties of Law and Medicine at Dalhousie University, recently mentioned in Impact Ethics that the Report’s 21 recommendations “address all of the critical issues relating to access to assisted dying.”

The recommendations are certainly broad in scope and suggest assistance in dying for individuals with “terminal and non-terminal grievous and irremediable medical conditions that cause enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.” Put simply, death can be intentionally hastened for cases involving illnesses or ailments that gravely threaten the existential being of the patient. However, one crucial detail is conspicuously absent from the Report: the methods of death-hastening.

Edvard Munch – Starry Night

Perhaps a conscious, consenting, and able-bodied adult could end his life by swallowing prescribed medication or even by pressing a button that delivers the same fatal dose intravenously. A dying patient could leave an advanced directive instructing medical personnel to terminate her life, just in case she lapses into a coma, becomes paralyzed or experiences some form of dementia. Assistance would then involve a medical practitioner who would have to fulfill the request using a lethal injection. According to the Report’s logic, these kinds of scenarios appear quite plausible, but one cannot draw any definitive conclusions.

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.