In the United States, the most extreme example of physician-assisted suicide is the work of Jack Kevorkian, M.D., a retired and unlicensed pathologist who has helped dozens of people die. He is now serving a jail sentence after being convicted of murder. Public opinion about Kevorkian varies. Those who find him an outrage point out that he has no ability to deliver good care and no long-standing relationship with those he helps to die. Also, some of those whom he has helped to die have not had life-threatening illnesses. Because he has no real relationship with the individuals, he is not able to assess them for depression, or to try to treat their symptoms.
In another example, Timothy Quill, M.D., has written about the help he gave to his long-term patient, "Diane." He provided her with enough medication so that, over time, she would have what she needed to kill herself. Through his ongoing conversations with her, he was aware of her suicidal intentions and believed that her decision was appropriate. His major regret was that he was not with her when she died, for fear of being prosecuted on criminal charges.
Recently a national survey in the United States showed that two to three percent of U.S. physicians had complied with a request to prescribe a drug intended for use in suicide. Very few of these drugs were ever taken.
Obviously, however, your main concern when you confront the end of life will be to get excellent care. If you also want to consider the issues in suicide, physician-assisted suicide, or euthanasia, you owe it to yourself to read more and to find some people — doctor, chaplain, counselor, family — who will be willing to talk with you.
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Physician-assisted suicide in Oregon
|Copyright © 1999, 2006 by Joanne Lynn. This extract from the Handbook for Mortals by Joanne Lynn, M.D. and Joan Harrold, M.D. is used with permission. To learn more about improving care at the end of life visit the main web site for Americans for Better Care of the Dying.|