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Physician Assisted Dying (PAD) has been lawful in some countries since the 1940s and in the United States since 1997. There is a body of social and scientific research that has focused on whether the practice has been misused and whether gaps exist in legislative safeguards. There are multiple concerns with physicians assisting patients to die: incompatibility with the physician’s role as a healer, devaluation of human life, coercion of vulnerable individuals (e.g., the poor and disabled), and the risk that PAD will be used beyond a narrow group of terminally ill individuals. Statutes in the United States have been drafted with these concerns in mind in an effort to mitigate the possible risks of PAD while still providing individuals with access.

There seems to be a shift in attitudes towards PAD. Currently four states statutorily permit PAD and it is being discussed by multiple legislatures across the country. There also seems to be a shift in medical practice as demonstrated by a 2015 survey that showed for the first time that more than half of physicians surveyed favored medical assistance in dying.

PAD is a deeply personal choice. The question is whether more states will authorize the practice and, if so, what safeguards will be put in place to ensure the practice is not misused and remains consistent with prevailing social and ethical thought.

Publication Citation

315 (3) JAMA 249-250 (2016)