A Difficult Choice for Doctors

Laws that allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication to their terminally ill patients almost always leave doctors in a difficult position.

For years many elder law advocates around the world have fought hard to change laws so that terminally ill people could choose to end their own lives peacefully.  As a result, many places now allow the practice by having passed what are known as "Right to Die" or "Dying with Dignity" laws.

One such law recently went into effect in California.

The law permits doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients who have fewer than six months left to live.  While the California law has been praised by many advocates, doctors are less certain about it.

Recently, The New York Times published one doctor's experience with the law in "Should I Help My Patients Die?"

The problem for doctors is that the Hippocratic Oath requires them to do no harm to their patients. Many doctors feel that hastening a patient’s death is doing harm.

While it can be argued that it cannot be considered harmful if it is something the patient wants, doctors do not necessarily see it that way.

The law permits doctors to prescribe the medication, but it does not require them to do so.

Since the doctors can make the choice, it puts them in the uncomfortable position of having to choose whether a patient is going to live or die.

More states are expected to pass these laws in the future.  As they do so, it will be important to keep in mind the opinions of both terminally ill patients and the doctors who care for them.

Reference: New York Times (August 5, 2017) "Should I Help My Patients Die?"


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