We Should Widen Access to Physician-Assisted Death

In: Journal of Moral Philosophy
Jordan MacKenzie Department of Philosophy, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, va, United States,

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Adam Lerner Department of Philosophy, Princeton University, Princeton, nj, United States,

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Typical philosophical discussions of physician-assisted death (“pad”) have focused on whether the practice can be permissible. We address a different question: assuming that pad can be morally permissible, how far does that permission extend? We will argue that granting requests for pad may be permissible even when the pad recipient can no longer speak for themselves. In particular, we argue against the ‘competency requirement’ that constrains pad-eligibility to presently-competent patients in most countries that have legalized pad. We think pad on terminally ill, incapacitated patients can be morally permissible in cases where advance directives or suitable surrogate decision-makers are available, and should be legally permissible in such cases as well. We argue that this view should be accepted on pain of inconsistency: by allowing surrogate decision-makers to request withdrawal of life-sustaining care on behalf of patients and by allowing patients to request pad, we rule out any plausible justification for imposing a competency requirement on pad.

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