Bioethics Blogs

Is assisted suicide ethically permissible if it is rare?

A recent JAMA article (subscription needed) shares the findings of a study which considers the “Attitudes and Practices of Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide in the United States, Canada, and Europe.”  As California has become the most recent state to add an “assisted death” law to the books, it is important to consider how the practices of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are viewed in places that have had them in place for a while.  Might they give us a hint of where we are headed?

The article highlights many important issues related to PAS and euthanasia.  It concludes,  “Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are increasingly being legalized, remain relatively rare, and primarily involve patients with cancer.  Existing data do not indicate widespread abuse of these practices.”  Implied in that sentence, then developed later in the article, is that the authors do not believe that there is a “slippery slope:”  “In the United States, the concern that minorities, the disabled, the poor, or other socioeconomically marginalized groups might be pressured to accept PAS does not seem to be borne out.  The demographic profile of patients in the United States who have received these interventions is white, well-educated, and well-insured.”  While that might be heartening at some level to those who fear for the marginalized of society, it does not remove all concerns, because the practice is not yet widespread in the United States.  The slope may be longer and less steep than first imagined, but it still appears to be a slope.

The JAMA study is helpful, but it does not address the ethical issues associated with this controversial issue.

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.