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Abstract

In Part I discusses whether there is a sustainable distinction between withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining measures and physician-assisted suicide. By segregating those who choose to end their lives into two groups, albeit with considerable overlap, the state can exert its general interest in preserving life and preventing suicide where it has the greatest interest and justification for doing so. In Part II, the author explores whether we can maintain a distinction between the right of a patient to have his or her physician assist in suicide and a direct role of the physician in various forms of euthanasia. Next, the author discusses, once physician-assisted suicide is defined as acceptable and as a right, whether it can be limited to the terminally ill, competent, intractably suffering patient. In a patient care structure in which purposeful ending of life is accepted as an ethical and constitutional right, limitations that conflict with the individual patient’s own sense of his or her suffering will not be able to shape the ordered and regulated system envisioned by those who support physician-assisted suicide. Next, the author takes on the “slippery slope” argument as a method for making ethical or legal judgments. Finally, the author concludes while there are certainly individual terminally ill patients for whom physician-assisted suicide provides a reasonable mechanism to end suffering, its establishment as a constitutional right and its widespread application would not be consistent with the fundamental healing and life preserving role of medicine nor would it enhance the crucial effort to provide each patient with the care necessary to minimize suffering.

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