A new California law that allows for physician-assisted suicide is broadly supported by the general public in the state. Doctors, however, are far more skeptical about it.
For a long time many elder law advocates and patients' rights advocates have argued that terminally ill people should have the option to get a prescription from their physicians to hasten their own deaths. They have argued that allowing the option gives people an opportunity to pass away with dignity when they choose to do so.
California recently became the fifth state to enact legislation providing for physician-assisted suicide. The measure is supported by a strong majority of the population.
The physicians who might be called upon to write the prescriptions, however, are not as certain about the law as the Los Angeles Times reports in "As California's End of Life act goes into effect, some doctors question where to draw the line."
Some doctors point out that the Hippocratic Oath prohibits physicians from providing poison to kill a patient. Thus, writing a prescription for a lethal dose of medication, even for a terminally ill patient, requires the doctors to break their oaths.
Many doctors also think that this has the potential to change the doctor-patient relationship in a substantial way. Doctors are normally called upon to provide ways to make their patients' lives better not to end those lives.
The debate over physician assisted suicide is likely to be with us for a long time as advocates look to enact legislation in more states. It is unlikely to ever be an easy question to answer for either physicians or their patients.