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‘Existential suffering’ and voluntary medically assisted dying
  1. Robert Young
  1. Correspondence to Dr Robert Young; Program in Philosophy, La Trobe University, VIC 3083 Australia;robert.young{at}

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Jukka Varelius1 ,2 and others3 have advocated that medically assisted dying should be made available on request to competent individuals experiencing ‘existential suffering’. Unlike Cassell and Rich, Varelius believes that existential sufferers do not have to be terminally ill before being helped to die. He does not regard ‘existential suffering’ on its own as sufficient to justify voluntary medically assisted dying, but believes it to be one of a set of jointly sufficient conditions (that includes, presumably, irreversibility of the suffering, agent competency, medical professional willingness, etc). In ‘Medical expertise, existential suffering and ending life’, however, he aims only to show that if physicians have the expertise required to assess when suffering consequent upon illness or injury is unbearable, that they can equally have that expertise when confronted with ‘existential suffering’. In what follows, I will neither be endeavouring to refute his more general claim (since I doubt that refutation is possible), nor his argument in the present paper. Rather, I will offer two reasons for thinking that even if it is sound it is of limited practical significance.

First, Varelius outlines his position without reference to relevant political considerations. He distances himself from what he terms the ‘conventional view’, namely, that voluntary medically …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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