Illustrative image for Scanning the Landscape of Physician Assisted Death

Hastings Center News

Scanning the Landscape of Physician-Assisted Death

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine released Physician- Assisted Death: Scanning the Landscape, proceedings from a two-day workshop convened by the National Academies in February to take a comprehensive look at the current landscape of physician-assisted death in the United States and other countries. Hastings Center research scholar Nancy Berlinger served on the planning committee for the workshop. She and Daniel Callahan, cofounder and President Emeritus of The Hastings Center, were speakers.

PAD is legal in eight jurisdictions in the U.S.: by statute in Oregon; Washington; Vermont; California; Colorado; Washington, D.C., and Hawaii, and by case law in Montana. Statutes permit residents with a prognosis of six months or less to make a voluntary request to a physician for a prescription for lethal medication for self-administration.

Berlinger, who chaired the session on how data about the use of PAD provisions in the U.S. and similar provisions in other countries is collected and analyzed, noted that while it is important to fill in knowledge gaps about PAD, data collection can be difficult. Asking people who are considering or using a PAD provision to participate in research may be burdensome to some patients or to their families, she said.

The workshop was also an opportunity to identify emerging ethical and social questions that require further research and discussion. Several physicians who practice in states where PAD is legal mentioned that understanding how terminally ill patients perceive the value of a PAD provision, whether or not they request a prescription, is part of the landscape. In discussing these questions, Berlinger asked how sharing information and stories about PAD, through the press or social media, affects public attitudes and also a family’s grieving process. Watch Berlinger’s introductory remarks.

Callahan has written extensively about how PAD might harm the public good. However, he predicts that it will continue to be legalized because we have not learned to deal with prolonged dying, a downside of medical progress. Listen to Callahan’s remarks.

Read the full workshop proceedings here.