Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide and the Professional Obligations of Physicians

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Euthanasia and assisted suicide have proved to be very contentious topics in medical ethics. Some ethicists are particularly concerned that allowing physicians to carry out these procedures will undermine their professional obligations and threaten the very goals of medicine. However, I maintain that the fundamental goals of medicine not only do not preclude the practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide by physicians, but can in fact be seen to support these practices in some instances. I look at two influential views of the goals of medicine, one based on the broad guiding principles of autonomy, beneficence and nonmaleficence, and the other focusing on several more concrete aims, concluding that both approaches can be seen to support euthanasia and assisted suicide. I then turn to the popular concern that allowing physicians to carry out euthanasia and assisted suicide will lead to widespread abuse. I argue that the possibility for abuse can be minimised if we make the patient's autonomous consent an essential requirement of the practice.
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