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Physician aid-in-dying: cautionary words

Van Norman, Gail A.a,b

Current Opinion in Anaesthesiology: April 2014 - Volume 27 - Issue 2 - p 177–182
doi: 10.1097/ACO.0000000000000046
ETHICS, ECONOMICS AND OUTCOME: Edited by David M. Rothenberg

Purpose of review: Physician-assisted suicide (PAS) and euthanasia have been increasingly discussed in end-of-life care, as PAS and euthanasia have now been legalized in three European countries and PAS has been legalized in Washington, Oregon, and Montana in the USA. This review focuses on some aspects of PAS and euthanasia and discusses deep terminal sedation (DTS), which is increasingly used to treat intractable symptoms at the end of life.

Recent findings: PAS and euthanasia present potential risks for vulnerable populations, such as the depressed and disabled. The Oregon experience does not allow specific analysis regarding disabled patients, but fewer psychiatric consultations are being done to evaluate patients for depression. In the Netherlands, a small number of patients undergo euthanasia without an explicit request. Twenty percent of cases go unreported, raising questions of whether they met legal standards. The use of DTS in all countries has increased, but in a significant number of cases, DTS is used with an explicit intent to hasten death. Double-effect arguments to justify DTS may not actually apply.

Summary: Caution is warranted regarding PAS and euthanasia, as vulnerable patients may still be at risk. More research is needed to characterize the use (and misuse) of DTS.

aDepartment of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

bDepartment of Biomedical Ethics, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA

Correspondence to Gail A. Van Norman, MD, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA. E-mail: gvn@uw.edu

© 2014 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.