Toxic abandonment: a case for non-participation in physician-assisted suicide

Preface – Alva B Weir, III, MD, FACP addresses an important question in the assisted-suicide debate: What is a physician’s central responsibility in the care of his or her patients near the end of their lives?

I recently read with interest Dr Thomas Strouse’s article written to support physician aid in dying. Within the article he made the following statement: “I have come to view ‘active non-participation’ in legal PAD [physician aid in dying] – that is, decisions by individual physicians and/or health systems not only to not provide, but also not refer patients to possibly willing providers and systems without regard for specific clinical contexts – as a toxic form of patient abandonment.”1Within the article, Dr Strouse lays out for us thoughtful precautions in the aid-in-dying laws, attempting to demonstrate that no vulnerable population is abused. Such precautions are important but provide the same result for all participants: the death of a patient. This is the central problem with aid in dying. Certainly there is nothing wrong with dying, and we all will have that opportunity. Though most of us would choose to put that moment off a while, for some, the suffering in this life makes death seem a welcome relief.

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