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Physician-assisted suicide discussion

Ventura County Star
Sunday, 07/22/2007
by James Hornstein

An Oregon doctor, having just participated in the assisted death of one of his patients, wrote: "Although we have accepted our roles as comforters in end-of-life care, we have not struggled enough with our active roles in accomplishing their death. I am grateful for the great disruption in my emotional stability that this experience precipitated. The act should never be easy, never routine. It should be among the most difficult and disquieting acts we embark upon."

How do you feel about what this physician did? Was he a compassionate doctor who brought a quick end to a suffering human being? Or was he a misguided clinician, acting more like God than the attentive and sensitive physician he should have been? Or, perhaps, you're really not sure what to think.

In the field of medical ethics, the topic of doctor-assisted suicide is one of the most difficult dilemmas confronting physicians, families and patients at the end of life. Several thoughtful essays have been written in The Star over the past several weeks, most claiming that their position represents the values of compassion and respect for a patient's choices.

However, how can both sides claim to be the compassionate choice when they recommend exactly opposite solutions?

In an effort to help our community openly discuss this controversial issue, I am pleased to host a free seminar on Wednesday titled, "Should Doctors Prescribe Death? How to Understand Physician-Assisted Suicide." It will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at Community Memorial Hospital, eighth floor, Nichols Auditorium. The goal of the program is to present both sides of this debate so that you — citizens, families, patients and professionals — can learn together, ask questions of each other and formulate your own informed opinion.

James Hornstein, M.D., is chairman of Community Memorial Hospital's Bioethics Committee. He also is a lecturer and visiting faculty member at University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Southern California, where he discusses such issues as medical ethics.