A Medical Degree Is Not a License to Prescribe Death


An argument against medical aid in dying.

medical aid in dying



This article is in response to the series, “The Case for Medical Aid in Dying” by Douglas W. Heinrichs, MD.

As the author of a book on this subject (Rational Suicide, Irrational Law: Examining Current Approaches to Suicide in Policy and Law),1 I believe Douglas W. Heinrichs, MD, has missed one of the most important objections to physician-assisted suicide: that lethal medications are very rarely prescribed by a physician who has a long relationship with the patient. For the most part, medications are prescribed by a physician who strongly believes in the concept of physician-assisted suicide. In my opinion, a medical degree and an agenda are not sufficient to license someone to prescribe death to another person.

The best case for physician-assisted suicide was made by Timothy Quill, who assisted a long-time patient after several discussions and moments of personal agonizing. Another good argument is made by those who point out that merely prescribing lethal medication does not mean that the patient will take it, only that the patient now has more power over their life.

However, I continue to feel that medicalizing an essentially personal and philosophical decision is a mistake. Suicide is not “treatment,” and I resist categorizing it this way, not only for reasons of the Hippocratic Oath but because the medical profession has enough power already.

This is an important discussion, and well worth having. I look forward to reading more from Dr Heinrichs.

Dr Stefan is one of the country's most highly regarded experts in mental disability law.


1. Stefan S. Rational Suicide, Irrational Law: Examining Current Approaches to Suicide in Policy and Law. Oxford University Press; 2016.

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