Indiana State University Newsroom

Panel discusses legal, medical and ethical dilemmas of physician-assisted suicides

March 4, 2015

The ethical questions surrounding end-of-life decisions are many, but the answers were far from simple for a group of professionals and students from medical and legal fields who tackled the issue during a panel discussion at Indiana State University.

"With current technology, the accurate diagnosis of most diseases and their prognosis are rapidly made, affording a patient an opportunity for choices," said Dr. Jim Turner, medical director for the Richard G. Lugar Center for Rural Health at Union Hospital and a panelist for Tuesday's discussion. "If a debilitating and fatal outcome is anticipated, patients deserve to understand their legal and medical options."

The discussion of those options came one day before the 10th annual Ethics Conference at Indiana State. The daylong conference, hosted by the Network Financial Institute's junior class from the Scott College of Business, examines the role of ethics in business, law, music and medicine.

Other panelists included Holly Reedy, an Indiana State alumna and an attorney with Wilkinson, Goeller, Modesitt, Wilkinson and Drummy in Terre Haute, Dr. Krishnamohan Namburi, interventional cardiologist for Union Hospital, and Andrew Mathis, a master's degree student in physician assistant studies at Indiana State.

Namburi stressed that there is a distinction between physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. Whereas euthanasia involves the intentional termination of life through direct action at a person's request, physician-assisted suicides involve a physician giving information or the means for someone else to take their own life.

As a student, Mathis said the issue isn't discussed in his courses since physician-assisted suicides are illegal in Indiana. He is interested, though, in seeing how the issue is handled by the states.

"You enter (the medical profession) with life in mind and want to see that a patient's dignity is maintained during end of life care so they don't just fade away," Mathis said. "We all want our family members to exit the world in peace, which begs the question, if we can keep people comfortable at the end of life, is physician-assisted suicide even necessary?"

While not having a strong opinion on physician-assisted suicides, Reedy said that if the state were ever to consider it she would want there to be certain stipulations, such as only allowing medical professionals to be involved, in order to keep prevent abuses of the system.

Public discourse, such as that provided at the panel discussion, is vital in better understanding the complexities families and physicians face when making these decisions.

"Hippocrates addressed this issue in 5 B.C.: ‘I will give no man a poison,'" Turner said. "Even with appropriate pain management, many still suffer a painful death. Our license to practice medicine is granted by the state - not academic institutions. Legislators must hear from their constituents to guide them in developing a policy so that physicians and families will not add legal issues to their heartbreaking dilemma."

Writer: Betsy Simon, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or