Dementia and Physician‐Assisted Suicide

We can do more now than in the whole history of humankind to treat your symptoms. Alzheimer disease is typically not painful, but associated conditions may be painful, and pain and other symptoms ought to be treated vigorously. Clinicians and society have obligations to work to improve palliative care and hospice for the demented among us, and to do more to help caregivers. These are the pressing issues to which we should be devoting our attention. Assisted suicide is both a distraction and a seductively inexpensive alternative to this kind of hard work.

You might disagree, but clinicians, the law, and the person on the street all recognize that there is a difference between forgoing life‐sustaining treatments and killing a patient (or assisting a patient in killing himself or herself).7 When I, as a physician, discontinue ventilator support because the patient has determined that it has become more burdensome than beneficial, I am acknowledging the limits of medicine. That is a good thing. When I act with the intention of making someone dead, or help someone to make herself dead, because I cannot otherwise cure or relieve the suffering that she has deemed unacceptable, then I have, in effect, refused to accept the limits of medicine. Medicine becomes the ultimate solution to the problem of human suffering. That is a terrible power—a power so great that it cannot help but be corrupting. It is a power no doctor should want and no wise society should grant to its healers.

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