ICBioethics Blog 

Moral Differences between Euthanasia, Palliative Sedation, and Physician Assisted Suicide

Written by: Barbara Postol

There can sometimes be confusion regarding euthanasia, palliative sedation, and physician assisted suicide. Euthanasia is not legal in the US, this is intentionally ending the life of a patient usually done by injecting a substance into a patient who is seeking to end his or her own life. Physician assisted suicide is legal in some US states, and entails a patient ending his or her own life usually with a prescription from a physician, but the patient actually takes his or her own life. Palliative sedation is medication given proportionally to severe pain and suffering at the end of life, which renders a patient unaware.

The key moral distinguishing factors which set palliative sedation apart from both physician assisted suicide and euthanasiaare intent and proportionality. Palliative sedation is done to ease patient suffering and not bring about death. The medications required to this this render a person unconscious. This is proportionality. Enough medication is given in proportion to the pain the patient is experiencing. The other distinguishing factor is intent. Palliative sedation lacks the intent to bring about a patient’s death. However, euthanasia and physician assisted suicide (while with reasoning to end the great suffering of the terminally ill) each have the intent to bring about the death of the patient.

The moral differences between euthanasia and physician assisted suicide may not greatly vary. While in euthanasia it is the physician who ends the life of the patient by one method and in physician assisted suicide, the physical has a vital role, too. The patient may actually commit the final act by ending his or her life, but it could not have been done without the physician’s help. In essence, they both work together to bring about the patient’s death. It is through examining these variances that we make clear the different moral distinctions between the acts of euthanasia, physician assisted suicide (to end the life of a terminal patient) and palliative care, which seeks to ease the suffering of the terminally ill patient in end of life care.

Mitch GennusoComment