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  • Navya Gautam

Choosing to Say Goodbye: The Ethical Dilemma of Physician-Assisted Suicide

Do people have the right to willingly die? 

This question has sparked numerous debates around the process of Physician-Assisted Suicide (PAS). PAS involves a physician providing a competent, terminally ill patient with the means to end their own life [1]. At the heart of the controversy surrounding PAS is a clash of fundamental ethical principles: the respect for autonomy versus the sanctity of life.

Proponents of PAS argue with autonomy and compassion in mind. They believe that individuals facing terminal illnesses should have the right to choose the timing and manner of their death, especially to avoid facing unnecessary suffering and loss of quality of life [2]. This goes hand in hand with the belief that people should have control over their own bodies and decisions related to their health, which can include the decision to end their life in certain circumstances [3]. As such, advocates of PAS emphasize the importance of individual suffering and the moral imperative to alleviate it, suggesting that in certain cases, helping someone die can be an act of profound kindness.

On the other hand, opponents of PAS draw upon the sanctity of life principle, claiming that life is inherently valuable and should be preserved at all costs. They argue that normalizing PAS would undermine this intrinsic value of human life and may also lead to coerced death in vulnerable populations (i.e. the elderly, disabled, etc.) who might feel pressured to choose death over being a burden to their families or society [2].

Central to the debate over PAS beyond the patient is the role of the physician themselves. Since the medical profession is guided by the Hippocratic Oath to "do no harm," PAS raises questions about whether it supports  or contradicts the fundamental duties of a physician. PAS, as a compassionate response to suffering, aligns with a physician's duty to alleviate pain. However, it could also compromise the doctor-patient relationship, transforming healers into “agents of death” [3]. 

All in all,  the ethical debates around PAS are likely to only intensify as society’s attitudes towards death and autonomy shift. Therefore, going forward, we must find common ground that honors both the sanctity of life and the dignity of death.

Reviewed by Laila Khan-Farooqi

Design by Acelo Worku


[1] American Medical Association. (2016). Physician-Assisted Suicide | ama-coe.

[2] Goligher, E. C., Ely, E. W., Sulmasy, D. P., Bakker, J., Raphael, J., Volandes, A. E., Patel, B. M., Payne, K., Hosie, A., Churchill, L., White, D. B., & Downar, J. (2019). Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the ICU. Critical Care Medicine, 45(2), 149–155.

[3] American Medical Association. (2016). Physician-Assisted Suicide | ama-coe.



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