Treating Patients Who Request Assisted Suicide
A Closer Look at the Physician's Role
John R. Peteet, MD
Arch Fam Med. 1994;3(8):723-727.
Growingrd it have led to a focus on the tasks of finding common ground with patients who wish to die and of defining appropriate procedural safeguards. Less attention has been directed to the unique opportunities and responsibilities that are inherent in the role of the physician as healer. This article suggests that rather than assisting in their suicide, physicians should address the needs that prompt patients to request it. In addition to relieving the physical causes of suffering, they can help patients to establish realistic hopes by expanding their possibilities, bear suffering by assuring them that their suffering is understood and by remaining with them, and achieve perspective by reviewing the meaning of their life. The argument that these opportunities constitute compelling responsibilities is rooted in the medical traditions of beneficence, virtue, and sharing of power. Physicians' inability to meet all of their patients' needs does not detract from the importance of the psychological, personal, and pastoral aspects of their role.
From the Division of Psychiatry, Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Mass.