Conference Explores What Physician-Assisted Suicide Could Mean to People with Disabilities

Conference on end-of-life decision making for people with chronic disabling conditions

In 1997 and 1998, staff at Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H., organized two conferences on physician-assisted suicide and what it means to persons with disabilities, along with two training sessions that focused on developing ways of educating people with disabilities on the subject.

Key Results

  • The first conference—entitled "End of Life Decision Making for People with Disabilities: The Problem of Physician-Assisted Suicide and Active Voluntary Euthanasia"—was held in Chicago, Ill, on June 27–28, 1997.

    Eighteen national leaders from law, medicine, ethics, social policy, and disability research and advocacy attended. Participants identified critical issues regarding people with disabilities and physician-assisted suicide, including:

    • The failure to include persons with disabilities in discussions about physician-assisted suicide taking place in policy making forums and media events.
    • The withdrawal-of-treatment option is presented to families of individuals with disabilities.
    • The unavailability of broad community and home-based support services for people with disabilities.
    • The lack of medical education surrounding palliative care efforts and persons with disabilities.
    • The complex issues surrounding surrogate decision-making for individuals with cognitive disabilities.
  • The second conference, held on March 2, 1998 in Manchester, N.H., brought together some 260 people with disabilities (along with some of their family members), legislators, attorneys, physicians, and professionals working in the field of disability services.

    • Two sponsors of proposed legislation for physician-assisted suicide presented proponents' perspectives, and other speakers addressed the concerns of people with disabilities.
  • A training on disability and legalized assisted suicide was piloted in two one and a half-hour sessions in Chicago, Ill, in the spring of 1998. Twelve people with various disabilities attended the first session; seventeen people with multiple sclerosis attended the second.

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