Physicians’ End of Life Discussions with Patients: Is There an Ethical Obligation to Discuss Aid in Dying?

HEC Forum 32 (3):227-238 (2020)
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Since Oregon implemented its Death with Dignity Act, many additional states have followed suit demonstrating a growing understanding and acceptance of aid in dying processes. Traditionally, the patient has been the one to request and seek this option out. However, as Death with Dignity acts continue to expand, it will impact the role of physicians and bring up questions over whether physicians have the ethical obligation to facilitate a conversation about AID with patients during end of life discussions. Patients have the right to make informed decisions about their health, which implies that physicians have an obligation to discuss with and inform patients of the options that will accomplish the patients’ goals of care. We will argue that physicians have an ethical obligation to inform certain patients about AID during end of life care discussions. We will also address what this obligation encompasses and explore guidelines of when and how these conversations should occur and proceed. Earlier guidelines, presented by various palliative care and ethics experts, for proceeding with such conversations have mostly agreed that the discussion of hospice and end of life care with patients should be initiated early and that the individual goals of a patient during the remaining duration of life should be thoroughly examined before discussion of appropriate options. In discussing AID, physicians should never recommend but inform patients about the basics so that they can make an informed decision. If patients express further interest in AID, the physician should open up the dialogue to address the reasoning behind this decision versus other possible treatments to ensure that patients clearly comprehend the process and implications of their decision. Ultimately, any end of life choice should be made by patients with the full capacity to express what they envision for the remaining duration of life and to comprehend the advantages and disadvantages of all the possible options.



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Aid-in-dying laws and the physician's duty to inform.Mara Buchbinder - 2017 - Journal of Medical Ethics 43 (10):666-669.
The impact on patient trust of legalising physician aid in dying.M. Hall - 2005 - Journal of Medical Ethics 31 (12):693-697.

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