Editorial| Volume 20, ISSUE 2, P53-54, April 2006

Multilevel Ambivalence…Providers, Systems, and Now the Courts

      THE OREGON DEATH with Dignity Act has made its debut in the highest court in the United States. Arguments surrounding the case Gonzales v. Oregon were introduced Wednesday, October 5, 2005, in the Supreme Court. Initial reports are that the Supreme Court judges seem closely divided on the issues before them. The court deliberations focus on the legality of the Attorney General's power to limit the state's right to distribute controlled substances to assist suicide. Yet, this legal argument seems to stem directly from our cultural and societal ambivalence with decisions about life and death. On one level, we, as health professions, have little hesitancy in prolonging lives of those who have expressed their wish to die. However, we find it inconceivable that we should assist in shortening the lives of others who have expressed their wish to die on their own terms, death with dignity. Often, our personal ambivalence about life and death is reflected in our professional actions. At a very personal level, most of us would express willingness to end our own lives in the face of a terminal illness, choosing our own time and place of death, even if we later choose not to do so. The Oregon Death with Dignity Law permits individuals to make this decision with legal access to medications, in lethal doses, prescribed by a physician.
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