Physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia (PAS/E) is a topic of intense debate in society, not least among critical care medicine specialists, who treat many patients at or near the end of life. Core ethical issues involved in PAS/E will be discussed and debated in a panel discussion at the Society of Critical Care Medicine’s (SCCM) 46th Critical Care Congress, to be held on January 21–25 at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. The issues are also discussed in the February 2017 issue of Critical Care Medicine, the SCCM’s official journal. The session will be broadcast live at www.sccm.org/live.
“We describe major alternative perspectives on four questions central to the ethical analysis of PAS/E in the form of a dialogue between those who favor the legalization of PAS/E and those who oppose it,” according to the article by Ewan C. Goligher, MD, of the University of Toronto, and his coauthors. They present a “collegial” perspective on these difficult issues by a panel of critical care medicine clinicians and other experts.
New laws and legal decisions have sharpened the focus on PAS/E and its implications for critical care medicine. Physician-assisted suicide refers to the prescription of lethal medications to be voluntarily self-administered. Voluntary euthanasia refers to the direct causation of death by a physician at the patient’s “specific, consistent, and thoroughly considered request.”
The four ethical issues to be debated include:
Discussions on PAS/E have become increasingly prominent in health care and in society at large, according to the SCCM. PAS/E is now legal in six U.S. states and Canada.
Goligher and his colleagues write: “We hope that our discussion enables readers to reflect critically on their own position on PAS/E in order to care for critically ill patients and their families with ever greater compassion and humanity, and to discuss these issues among colleagues with clarity and respect.”