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Cancer Control. 2001 Jan-Feb;8(1):25-31.

Physician-assisted suicide: the legal slippery slope.

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Division of Medical Ethics and Humanities at the University of South Florida College of Medicine, Tampa 33612-4799, USA.



In Oregon, physicians can prescribe lethal amounts of medication only if requested by competent, terminally ill patients. However, the possibility of extending the practice to patients who lack decisional capacity exists. This paper examines why the legal extension of physician-assisted suicide (PAS) to incapacitated patients is possible, and perhaps likely.


The author reviews several pivotal court cases that have served to define the distinctions and legalities among "right-to-die" cases and the various forms of euthanasia and PAS.


Significant public support exists for legalizing PAS and voluntary euthanasia in the United States. The only defenses against sliding from PAS to voluntary euthanasia are adhering to traditional physician morality that stands against it and keeping the issue of voluntary euthanasia legally framed as homicide. However, if voluntary euthanasia evolves euphemistically as a medical choice issue, then the possibility of its legalization exists.


If courts allow PAS to be framed as a basic personal right akin to the right to refuse treatment, and if they rely on right-to-die case precedents, then they will likely extend PAS to voluntary euthanasia and nonvoluntary euthanasia. This would be done by extending the right to PAS to incapacitated patients, who may or may not have expressed a choice for PAS prior to incapacity.

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