The American Medical Association (AMA) opposes physician-assisted suicide (PAS) on the grounds that it “would ultimately cause more harm than good,” because it is “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer,” and because it “would be difficult or impossible to control and would pose serious societal risks” (AMA 2016, Opinion 5.7). It condemns the practice of euthanasia as conducted by physicians (PE) for these reasons as well, and adds, by way of clarifying the serious risks at hand, that “euthanasia could readily be extended to incompetent patients and other vulnerable populations” (Opinion 5.8). In this essay I will attempt to rebut these charges. I will devote most of my attention to the first one, concerning the harmfulness of PAS and PE. Here the AMA appeals to the moral principle that physicians should not act in ways that will ultimately cause more harm than good, which we can call the “more-harm principle.” However, I will start by discussing another argument against PAS and PE, one that appeals to (what I will call) the “no-harm principle.” While the AMA does not appeal to the no-harm principle in its opinion statement, discussing it is useful for two reasons. One is that the no-harm principle features in many formal and informal criticisms of PAS and PE (e.g., Boudreau and Somerville 2013). Another is that clarifying the no-harm principle will help me to bring the more-harm principle into focus, which in turn will make it easier to assess the AMA’s case.
Document Object Identifier (DOI)
Luper, S. (2016). The AMA on euthanasia and assisted suicide. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 59, 189-197. doi: 10.1353/pbm.2017.0003
Perspectives in Biology and Medicine