Should assisted suicide be only physician assisted? University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics Assisted Suicide Consensus Panel

Ann Intern Med. 2000 Mar 21;132(6):482-7. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-132-6-200003210-00010.


Discussions in the media, courts, legislatures, and professional societies generally assume assistance with suicide to be a physician's task; in these venues it is commonly referred to as "physician-assisted suicide." This paper defines both the necessity and the limits of the physician's role in assisted suicide by asking the question: Should assisted suicide be only physician assisted? Although physician involvement is necessary, we argue that it is not sufficient to ensure that patients requesting assisted suicide receive the best care. Assisted suicide requires physician involvement, but physicians' limited competence in performing the full range of tasks, the competencies of other professions, and the possibility that other professions could expand their authority in this area suggest that physician-assisted suicide is a far too narrow construct of the task. The willingness of other professionals--including nurses, social workers, and clergy--to participate and even take the lead in assisting suicides is critical to meet society's interest that assisted suicide should be humane, effective, and confined to appropriate cases. As long as legislation and guidelines focus exclusively on the physician's role, our laws and regulations will fall short of meeting societal expectations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Ethics, Medical
  • Euthanasia, Active
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Physician's Role*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Professional Role*
  • Public Opinion
  • Role
  • Suicide, Assisted* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • United States