Buchbinder, Mara. 2017. Aid-in-dying laws and the physician’s duty to inform. Journal of Medical Ethics 43:666-669.
On 19 July 2016, three medical organisations filed a federal lawsuit against representatives from several Vermont agencies over the Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act. The law is similar to aid-in-dying (AID) laws in four other US states, but the lawsuit hinges on a distinctive aspect of Vermont’s law pertaining to patients’ rights to information. The lawsuit raises questions about whether, and under what circumstances, there is an ethical obligation to inform terminally ill patients about AID as an end-of-life option. Much of the literature on clinical communication about AID addresses how physicians should respond to patient requests for assisted dying, but neglects the question of how physicians should approach patients who may not know enough about AID to request it. In this article, I examine the possibility of an affirmative duty to inform terminally ill patients about AID in light of ethical concerns about professional responsibilities to patients and the maintenance of the patient–provider relationship. I suggest that we should not take for granted that communication about AID ought to be patient-initiated, and that there may be circumstances in which physicians have good reasons to introduce the topic themselves. By identifying ethical considerations that ought to inform such discussions, I aim to set an agenda for future bioethical research that adopts a broader perspective on clinical communication about AID.
Buchbinder, Mara. 2018. Access to aid-in-dying in the United States: shifting the debate from rights to justice. American Journal of Public Health 108(6):754-759.
Much of the literature on aid-in-dying (AID) has drawn heavily on rights-based ethical and legal frameworks that emphasize patients’ rights of self-determination in end-of-life decision-making. Less attention has focused on how terminally ill people actually experience such putative rights once they are legally authorized. This analytic essay draws on findings from the Vermont Study on Aid-in-Dying, an ethnographic study of the implementation of AID in Vermont (2015–2017). First, I show that terminally ill people can face a range of barriers to accessing AID in permissive jurisdictions, and that access to AID is mediated by various inequalities endemic to US health care, as well as some that are unique to AID. I then build on these findings to examine the utility of the concept of justice for public health scholarship on AID. By integrating empirical, ethical, and policy analysis, I reframe rights-based frameworks that emphasize the role of individual choice and decision-making at the end of life. In doing so, I draw attention to health care justice as a neglected issue in public health perspectives on AID.
See a video recording of Dr. Buchbinder’s presentation to the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s workshop: “Physician-Assisted Death: Scanning the Landscape.”
If you would like copies of any of the papers listed on this page, please email Mara.