The New England Journal of Medicine has just published, on its website, a debate on “physician assisted suicide.” There is a “case vignette”, and then two short articles pro and con physician assisted suicide. Included is a poll in which you can vote, and you may also post a comment in response to the articles. I commend this to your attention. You can access it here. Following are my own comments on the arguments presented against assisted dying, though I commend the article that favours assisted dying to your careful consideration. Also included is an audio file with interviews with the primary authors of the articles. I will include a link to the debate and poll at the end as well.
I will only pick out a few points for consideration. The brief pro and con articles are, of course, inadequate to do justice to the arguments, but it is noticeable that the arguments provided against the practice of physician assisted suicide are particularly “thin.” For example, Boudreau and Somerville begin by saying that they “recognize that a patient in Mr. Wallace’s position [in the case study of the man with metastasizing pancreatic cancer] is in a state of grief.” There is certainly no evidence in the case study as presented that this is the case. This is consistent with the view, often expressed by opponents of assisted dying, that one must be, in some sense of the word, “depressed,” in order to request aid in dying. Not only is the evidence for such a claim lacking, there is ample reason for someone in Mr. Wallace’s position not to think of the future in terms of hope. In other words, if he were depressed, there would be ample reason for his unhopeful state of mind. Opponents of assisted dying often speak about depression as though it were always pathological. It is not pathological, where there are sufficient reasons for a depressed state of mind. Nor does depression necessarily impair judgement, as Boudreau and Somerville imply.