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Assisted Dying, Euthanasia, and Decisions Regarding End of Life

Respecting and promoting patient control has been one of the driving forces behind the hospice movement and right-to-die issues that range from honoring living wills to promoting euthanasia (mercy killing). These issues can create a conflict between a patient's desire for control and a physician's duty to promote health. These are issues of law, ethics, medicine, and philosophy. Some physicians may favor strong pain control and approve of the right of patients to refuse life support, but do not favor euthanasia or assisted suicide. Often patients who ask for physician-assisted suicide can be treated by increasing the patient's comfort and relieving symptoms, thereby reducing the patient's need for drastic measures. Patients with the desire to die should be carefully evaluated and treated for depression.

(See the PDQ summary on Last Days of Life for more information.)