Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy


Assisted suicide, Medical ethics, Terminal care, Euthanasia, Palliative treatment


Since the beginning of the hospice movement in 1967, "total pain management" has been the declared goal of hospice care. Palliating the whole person's physical, psychosocial, and spiritual states or conditions is central to managing the pain that induces suffering. At the end-stage of life, an inextricable component of the ethics of adjusted care requires recognition of a fundamental right to avoid cruel and unusual suffering from terminal illness. This Article urges wider consideration and use of terminal sedation, or sedation until death, as an efficacious palliative treatment and as a reasonable medical procedure in order to safeguard the "right" to a dignified death. Once the state establishes a human right to avoid refractory pain of whatever nature in end-stage illness, a coordinate responsibility must be assumed by health care providers to make medical judgments consistent with preserving the best interests of a patient's quality of life by alleviating suffering. The principle of medical futility is the preferred construct for implementing this professional responsibility. Rather than continue to be mired in the vexatious quagmire of the doctrine of double effect--all in an effort to "test" whether end-stage decisions by health care providers are licit or illicit--a relatively simple test of proportionality, or cost-benefit analysis, is proffered. Imbedded, necessarily, in this equation is the humane virtue of compassion, charity, mercy or agape. Assertions of state interest in safeguarding public morality by restricting intimate associational freedoms to accelerate death in a terminal illness are suspicious, if, indeed, not invalid. No terminally ill individual suffering from either intractable somatic or non-somatic pain, or both, should be forced to continue living.

Included in

Law Commons