This case study illustrates the complex role that a physician’s conscience can play in end-of-life care. We examine a case from Vermont in which a terminally ill patient requests aid-in-dying from her primary care physician under the state’s “Patient Choice and Control at End of Life” Act (Act 39). The physician feels conflicted: she is opposed to prescribing death-hastening medication but does not want to abandon her patient. Much of the medical ethics literature on conscience focuses on whether health care professionals should be permitted to abstain from providing morally contested medical services. Our analysis highlights the interplay of conflicting values that inform the physician’s engagement with aid-in-dying, demonstrating that the issue is often more nuanced than the question of whether or not a physician can (or should) opt out.
Conscience; End-of-Life Care; Medical Ethics; Nonabandonment; Patient-Provider Relationship; Physician Aid-in-Dying/Physician-Assisted Suicide; Terminal Illness