Physician-Assisted Death: Scanning the Landscape and Potential Approaches -- A Workshop
The 2014 case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year old woman suffering from terminal brain cancer who made public her desire to have an option to end her life through medication, brought to the forefront of the public eye the age-old question of whether terminally ill patients should have access to a physician's assistance to hasten death. To gain the option, Ms. Maynard relocated from California to Oregon, where a "death with dignity" law has been in effect for nearly 20 years. More recently, five jurisdictions (California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Vermont, and Washington) have legalized physician-assisted death, and physician-assisted death is also legal in one state (Montana) by virtue of a ruling of that state's Supreme Court. The question of whether and under what circumstances terminally ill patients canaccess life-ending medications with the aid of a physician is receiving increasing attention as a matter of public opinion and of public policy. Ethicists, clinicians, patients and their families debate whether physician-assisted death ought to be a legal option for patients. While public opinion is divided, and public policy debates include moral, ethical, and policy considerations, a demand for physician-assisted death still persists among some patients, and the inconsistent legal terrain leaves a number of questions and challenges for health care providers to navigate when presented with these patients. The Board on Health Sciences Policy of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will convene an ad hoc committee to plan a workshop that will explore current practices and challenges associated with physician-assisted death, and highlight potential approaches for addressing those challenges.
This workshop will include discussions that address:
- What is known empirically about the access to and practice of physician-assisted death in the U.S. and in other countries?
- What are potential approaches for physicians, including those practicing in states where it is legal, those who receive a request for access when the practice is legal in nearby states but not in the state of practice, and those who practice in a state where it is legal but are personally opposed to physician-assisted death.
- What is known about how palliative care and hospice services have incorporated the practice of physician-assisted death in states where it is legal?