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Erik Parens and Josephine Johnston Write About Alzheimer's Prediction Post-Kevorkian in
In a commentary in, Hastings Center scholars Erik Parens and Josephine Johnston encourage a careful conversation about assisted suicide, in light of recent tests that promise to predict Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms start, and in the wake of the death of Jack Kevorkian, the physician both reknowned and reviled for advocating for and participating in assisted suicide. 

“Jack Kevorkian’s fervid fascination with death made him a deeply unattractive human being,” write Parens and Johnston. “Yet he forced us to confront questions that, much as we might want to, we cannot ignore. Do some of us face fates worse than death, such that it can be rational and reasonable to request help in committing suicide? And should others of us help them to die? Recent scientific advances make these questions relevant to millions more Americans…. It is vitally important for us to explore all of the reasons against allowing or assisting Alzheimer’s patients to end their lives. And it is equally important to begin to explore the reasons on the other side.”

Parens and Johnston conclude: “One of the prices we pay for our new powers of prediction is difficult conversations about still more difficult choices. Fear should not keep us from trying to imagine whether we can honor the truly informed requests of people who believe that the way of dying that fits best with their understanding of a good life, is to leave before Alzheimer’s fully takes hold. Asking policy makers, clinicians, disease advocates and others to start taking this possibility seriously doesn’t mean we have any neat answers to the myriad, profound questions it raises. We don’t. We do believe, however, that we have an ethical obligation to face these questions, in solidarity with the millions of individuals and families who otherwise will have to face them alone.”