Continuous Sedation Until Death as Physician-Assisted Suicide/Euthanasia: A Conceptual Analysis

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 38 (2):190-204 (2013)
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A distinction is commonly drawn between continuous sedation until death and physician-assisted suicide/euthanasia. Only the latter is found to involve killing, whereas the former eludes such characterization. I argue that continuous sedation until death is equivalent to physician-assisted suicide/euthanasia in that both involve killing. This is established by first defining and clarifying palliative sedation therapies in general and continuous sedation until death in particular. A case study analysis and a look at current practices are provided. This is followed by a defense of arguments in favor of definitions of death centering on higher brain (neocortical) functioning rather than on whole brain or cardiopulmonary functioning. It is then shown that continuous sedation until death simulates higher brain definitions of death by eliminating consciousness. Appeals to reversibility and double effect fail to establish any distinguishing characteristics between the simulation of death that occurs in continuous sedation until death and the death that occurs as a result of physician-assisted suicide/euthanasia. Concluding remarks clarify the moral ramifications of these findings



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