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Commentary
Physician-assisted death does not violate professional integrity
  1. Udo Schuklenk1,
  2. Suzanne van de Vathorst2
  1. 1Department of Philosophy, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
  2. 2Department of Medical Ethics and Philosophy of Medicine, Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Dr Udo Schuklenk, Department of Philosophy, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada ON K7L 3N6; udo.schuklenk{at}gmail.com

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Franklin Miller's thoughtful reply to our paper asks pointed questions about the role of the physician qua physician in physician-assisted death.

Would making assisted dying available to treatment-resistant depressed people necessarily affect the professional integrity of healthcare professionals, as Dr Miller asserts?

Dr Miller agrees with us on a number of crucial points: It is possible that some patients with treatment-resistant major depression are competent to make the decision to ask for assisted dying; it is possible that some such patients could make a rational choice if they requested such assistance. He also is generally supportive of physician-assisted death, at least for ‘terminally ill’ patients. He defines a terminally ill patient as someone who has a ‘predictable short life span and will die soon regardless of medical intervention’. We disagree with his conceptualisation of ‘terminal illness’ as requiring that death occurs within 6–12 months, given the existence of illnesses like Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or certain prostate cancers that are commonly considered to be terminal illnesses and that are taking their predictable course sometimes over years. If, all other things being equal, an illness is going to kill a patient at some point down the track, it surely should qualify for the label ‘terminal illness’. However, we will accept his definition for the sake of the argument. Dr Miller supports the availability of assisted dying for patients likely to die from that illness within 6 months from the day their request for assisted dying has been made. He broadly holds the kind of view we aimed to sway with our analysis. Apparently, we failed.

Proper goals of medicine

Dr Miller thinks that physician-assisted death must be consistent with professional integrity, requiring that it is consistent with ‘the proper goals of medicine and the specific duties incumbent on clinicians in acting to realize …

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