Two prominent philosophers specializing in medical ethics debated the moral and legal arguments around the topic of physician assisted suicide on Monday, Sept. 29, 2020. The presentation, offered via Zoom, was sponsored by Niagara University's Ostapenko Center for Ethics in Medicine and Healthcare.

Dr. Stephen Kershnar, distinguished teaching professor of philosophy at SUNY Fredonia, and Dr. Philip Reed, associate dean and professor of philosophy at Canisius College, debated both sides of the issue, considered one of the most pressing medical ethical issues in our society. The practice involves terminally ill patients taking their own lives with the aid of physicians, and is now legal in several U.S. states. Dr. James Delaney, professor of philosophy and endowed director of professional ethics, moderated the discussion, reminding those in attendance that Niagara University, as a Catholic institution, does not advocate PAS.

Dr. Kershnar, who argued in support of PAS, said that people, as owners of their own bodies, have the moral right to end their lives and thus, should also have the legal right to do so. He compared PAS to the patient’s right to refuse medical treatment, noting that both lead to the same outcome—death of the patient—and that the only difference is the agent (doctor or lawyer) that facilitates the process.

Dr. Reed, arguing against PAS, noted that the practice compromises society’s obligation to prevent suicide. He said that people who opt for PAS have been shown to exhibit the same psychological distress as those who commit suicide, and that the medical response should be assisting to alleviate the cause of their pain rather than to end their lives.

Both philosophers had the opportunity to contest the other’s argument before a brief question-and-answer session, which concluded the presentation.

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