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Hastings Center News

National Academies Workshop on Aid-in-Dying Features Hastings Scholars

Hastings Center research scholar Nancy Berlinger and cofounder and President Emeritus Daniel Callahan  participated in a major public workshop on February 12 and 13.

“Physician-Assisted Death: Scanning the Landscape and Potential Approaches,” addressed critical questions concerning physician-assisted death: What is known about the practice in the United States and in other countries? In U.S. jurisdictions where it is legal, who makes use of this provision? What are the experiences of professionals? Who is vulnerable?

The workshop, organized by the Board on Health Sciences Policy of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, took place in Washington, D.C. Berlinger, who served on the planning committee, chaired a session on data and lessons from legal aid-in-dying frameworks in other countries.

Gaps and variations in collected data were discussed during the session.

Callahan spoke about his longstanding opposition to the practice, even as he predicted that the trend toward legalization in the United States and abroad would continue.

“Despite my opposition and that of many others to assisted death, I believe the immediate future belongs to assisted death,” he told the workshop. “We have not learned how to deal with the downside of medical progress, that of giving us a drawn-out death.” Many will regard assisted death as a solution, he added.

Berlinger heads The Hastings Center’s program area on Aging, Chronic Conditions, and End of Life. She is codirector of a planning process to determine how best the field of bioethics in general, and The Hastings Center in particular, can meet the new and complex needs of our aging society, and of aging people and their caregivers. Berlinger is the first author of the 2013 edition of The Hastings Center Guidelines for Decisions on Life-Sustaining Treatment and Care Near the End of Lifea groundbreaking book that incorporates 25 years of research and innovation in clinical care, law, and policy and has influenced policy and practice in health care institutions around the country.

“Throughout the world, societies with aging populations are facing many of the same challenges,” Berlinger says. “These challenges include how health and social systems should respond to the needs and concerns of people with serious, often age-associated, illness. This workshop offers an important opportunity for learning across borders as well as within the U.S.”