A general ethical and legal agreement has developed in the United States concerning the right to die. According to this agreement people have the right to refuse medical treatment. A number of cases have established this in the law. Thus in this sense the “right to die” has been affirmed. And most religious traditions agree with this. The Roman Catholic tradition, for example, allows for the refusal of life-sustaining treatment when the treatment is not of true human benefit to the patient.
A major area of controversy has arisen, however. This is the question of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. Is it right and should it be legal for doctors to kill patients or to help them commit suicide? While most states continue to forbid this practice, a few, such as Oregon, Washington, and most recently California, have passed laws that continue to forbid doctors from killing their patients (euthanasia in the strict sense) but allow them to help their patients to kill themselves (physician-assisted suicide). The Catholic tradition opposes this, as do some other religious traditions.
Dr. David F. Kelly will explore this issue. First, will be a brief review of the legal developments. Then we will turn to the ethical issues involved, including the necessary definitions and distinctions, two acceptable alternatives that are not always understood, and a look at the arguments themselves. He will propose that physician-assisted suicide ought not be made legal and will present reasons for this claim.
Dr. David Kelly was appointed Professor Emeritus when he retired after 25 years from Duquesne University in 2006. He was the inaugural holder of the Vernon F. Gallagher Chair for the Integration of Science, Philosophy, Theology, and Law, and the Founding Director of the Duquesne University Health Care Ethics Center. Dr. Kelly served as hospital ethicist for the St. Francis Health System, including three hospitals and two nursing homes, and was ethics consultant at the Mercy Hospital of Pittsburgh. He was an associate faculty member of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Medical Ethics.
Dr. Kelly earned advanced degrees in the United States and Belgium and his Doctorate at the University of Saint Michael’s College in Toronto. He is the author of five books, four of which are still in print, including Critical Care Ethics: Treatment Decisions in American Hospitals and Medical Care at the End of Life, as well as numerous articles on ethics and medical ethics in various professional journals.