Tufts OpenCourseware
Author: Ross S. Feldberg

We will read two essays that take opposing views on the correctness of physician-assisted suicide (PAS). In addition, we will look at the actual Oregon Death with Dignity Act (often misrepresented in the literature), several news articles on individual cases, and we will view the full length feature film “Mar Adentro,” which tells the story of Ramon Sampedro, a quadriplegic and his conflict with the Spanish government over his desire for euthanasia.


  • “Self-Extinction: The Morality of the Helping Hand” D. Callahan from Physician-Assisted Suicide R.F. Weir, ed. Indiana Univ Press 1997 P 69-85

  • “Physician-Assisted Suicide Is Sometimes Morally Justified” D.W. Brock in Physician-Assisted Suicide R.F. Weir, ed. Indiana Univ Press 1997 P 86-103

  • The Oregon Death with Dignity Act

  • PAS in the news (web articles: Aug 2006)

  • Mar Adentro: A film by Alejandro Amenábar (2002).


We will have an in-class discussion on the readings and Essay 1 will be a response paper to these readings. Let me suggest you make a few notes on your opinion/understanding of this topic before you begin the readings and then check to see how your understanding and opinions have changed (if at all).

Essay 1: Thinking about the Ethical Issues Raised in PAS

4-6 pages, double spaced

We have read two short papers on physician assisted suicide, looked at the details of the Oregon law, read some recent news releases and viewed a movie showing one individual’s decision to terminate his life. This essay can take a variety of forms. You could elaborate on which specific argument for or against PAS you find most compelling. What the strengths of this argument and what are its limits? Or, you might explore in more detail some of the issues raised in the movie or in responses in publications or the internet to this movie.

2.1. Callahan

  1. How does Callahan try to influence our thinking about his argument?

  2. What are Callahan’s key objections to PAS?

  3. What key premises does Callahan set forth in the first three pages of his essay?

  4. Callahan argues that PAS and euthanasia are not essentially different. Do you agree? How does he try to convince you of this argument? Why is it important?

  5. What do you see as Callahan’s most compelling argument?

2.2. Brock

  1. Why does Brock separate the question of whether PAS is moral in individual cases from the question of whether it is ethically acceptable as public and legal policy?

  2. Can you identify any of Brock’s premises?

  3. Brock argues that decisions on life-terminating treatments are in the same category as decisions to refuse life-sustaining treatments. How would Callahan deal with this argument?

  4. Why is it important for Brock to argue that euthanasia and allowing to die are essentially the same?

  5. What is the point of the story about the son and the mother with ALS?

  6. Does allowing physicians to take place in killing “undermine the moral center of medicine”? What is the primary aim of medicine?


  • The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia Gorsuch, NM Princeton Univ Press 2006

  • The Oxford handbook of practical ethics / edited by Hugh LaFollette. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

  • Death talk: the case against euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide / Margaret Somerville. McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001.

  • Physician-assisted suicide: the anatomy of a constitutional law issue / Susan M. Behuniak and Arthur G. Svenson. Lanham :

  • A death of one's own [videorecording]; produced and directed by Gail Pellett. Princeton, NJ: Films for the Humanities & Sciences, 2000.

  • Assisted suicide: finding common ground / edited by Lois Snyder and Arthur L. Caplan. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002.

  • Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide: killing or caring? / by Michael Manning. New York: Paulist Press, 1998.

  • Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide / Gerald Dworkin, R.G. Frey, Sissela Bok: Cambridge U. Press, 1998.

  • Physician assisted suicide: expanding the debate / edited by Margaret P. Battin, Rosamond Rhodes, and Anita Silvers. New York: Routledge, 1998.

  • The case for physician assisted suicide / Sheila McLean and Alison Britton. London: Pandora, 1997.

  • The Case Against Assisted Suicide: for the right to end-of-life care / Foley, K and Hendin, H. eds 2002

  • Regulating how we die: the ethical, medical, and legal issues surrounding physician-assisted suicide / edited by Linda L. Emanuel.: Harvard U Press, 1998.

  • Physician-assisted dying: the case for palliative care and patient choice Quill, T and Battin, M., editors, 2004