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Professor Orentlicher on "Sound Medicine" Regarding JAMA Article on Physician Aid in Dying

06/02/2014

Professor David OrentlicherProfessor David Orentlicher gave an interview to the WFYI radio program “Sound Medicine” and talked about physician aid in dying, the topic of his recent Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) article.

Professor Orentlicher’s interview is part of the program that aired June 1.

The article, titled “The Changing Legal Climate for Physician Aid in Dying,” appeared in JAMA’s print edition on May 20. Professor Orentlicher, co-director of the Hall Center for Law and Health at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, is the lead author. He worked with co-authors Thaddeus Mason Pope and Ben A. Rich.

The article traces the evolution of end-of-life law, from the Quinlan court’s recognition of the right to refuse life-sustaining treatment in 1976, to the current era, in which aid in dying is increasingly accepted. Five states now permit physician aid in dying, and many other states are moving in the same direction. (Physician aid in dying also is known as physician-assisted suicide.)

The evolution shows that it is more important why patients are ready to die than how they want to die. “What is critical about the right [to take life-ending action],” Professor Orentlicher and co-authors observe, “is the desire to protect seriously ill people from intolerable suffering.” Allowing people to refuse ventilators, dialysis, and feeding tubes automatically limits the right to die to people suffering from serious illness.

But some patients suffer from widely metastatic cancer or other serious diseases and are not dependent on life-sustaining treatment. “For those patients, aid in dying can be an important option” to “ease the dying process.” To ensure that only the seriously ill have access to physician aid in dying, all five aid-in-dying states have restricted the practice to terminally ill patients.

Professor Orentlicher holds both M.D. and J.D. degrees from Harvard and is an internationally-recognized expert on bioethics and law. The article builds on ideas developed by him in Matters of Life and Death (Princeton University Press).

In addition to serving as co-director of the Hall Center for Law and Health at IU McKinney School of Law, Professor Orentlicher is an adjunct professor of medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine. Before coming to IU, he served as director of the Division of Medical Ethics at the American Medical Association (AMA). While there, he led the drafting of the AMA’s first patients’ bill of rights and helped develop many other positions — on end-of-life matters, organ transplantation, and reproductive issues — that have been cited by courts and government agencies in their decision-making.

Professor Orentlicher also has held visiting or adjunct appointments at Princeton University, the University of Chicago Law School, and Northwestern University Medical School.


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