Ethical & Legal Dilemmas in Terminally Ill Patients

Ethical & Legal Dilemmas in Terminally Ill Patients


In many cases, terminally ill patients experience a great deal of pain and they feel guilty of being a burden to their families. They find no reason to continue suffering and make their families suffer yet they will finally die. There are cases where such patients request their healthcare providers for euthanasia as a way of relieving their intensive pain and burden (Orentlicher, 2007). Healthcare providers face a great challenge in deciding whether to respond to patients’ requests or adhere to the medical ethics of caring and causing no harm. In this case, a terminally ill patient calmly narrates to a healthcare provider how she will “enjoy” her last minutes before killing herself. The patient plans to go to an isolated place, drink her favorite drink, listen to her favorite music, record a dedication to the family, sit under her favorite tree, and commit suicide. The case depicts a scenario where a person experiences a dilemma and must take immediate ethical, legal, and moral action.

Moral Dilemma

From a literal point of view, one would sympathetically agree with the decision of the terminally ill patient. Instead of passing through a great deal of pain and burdening the family, the patient would rather die. To agree with the decision of the patient, the healthcare provider would keep the plan as confidential as possible. However, a high sense of morality would bring in a second thought. Keeping such crucial information as a secret brings discomfort and depression (Quill, Cassel, & Meier, 2002). After the death of the patient, the guilt would follow, and the health care provider would feel like a murderer. Probably, what the patient needs is physiological counseling. She needs palliative care and fulfillment of all her desires including the favorite drink, favorite music, a cool place resembling the park, and the beloved family. The moral dilemma is choosing between letting the client die and keeping the information confidential, or sharing the story and subjecting the client to a dignified death.


Another thought that would click the mind immediately is the legal obligation of the healthcare provider. Letting the client go ahead and commit suicide is an option that would save her the agony of pain and dependency. However, it is against the law for a healthcare provider to keep such highly critical information. It is also illegal to help terminally ill patients kill themselves. The healthcare providers could be guilty of a crime if they support the patient in committing suicide. The legal dilemma is choosing between breaking the law and saving the client from pain or adhering to the law and letting the client continue suffering. Ethical & Legal Dilemmas in Terminally Ill Patients

Ethical Dilemma

The ethical dilemma arises on the stand of medical ethics where a healthcare provider should not end life directly or indirectly unless in extreme cases. In the medical field, there is no justifiable reason to let someone die (Quill, Meier, & Block, 2008). In this case, the client narrates to the healthcare provider about the procedures she would undertake before finally killing herself. The ethical dilemma is choosing between letting the patient kill herself and escape the pain, or adhering to the medical ethics and prolonging the life of the ailing patient.


The subject of euthanasia elicits mixed reactions due to differences in ethical, legal, and moral perceptions. People have opposing views regarding the application of euthanasia in ending the lives of terminally ill patients. Either way, it is not immoral and unethical to prolong the life of a patient, yet the healthcare providers are 100% sure of the forthcoming and unavoidable death. Palliative seduction would be a better option that would relieve the patient from intense pain and hasten the occurrence of the impending death.


Orentlicher, D. (2007). The Supreme Court and physician-assisted suicide: Rejecting assisted suicide but embracing euthanasia. New England Journal of Medicine33(7), 1236-1239.

Quill, T.E., Meier, D., & Block, S.D. (2008). The Debate over physician-assisted suicide: Empirical data and convergent views. Annals of Internal Medicine, 12(8), 552-558.

Quill, T.E., Cassel, C.K., & Meier, D.E., (2002). Care of the hopelessly ill: Proposed clinical criteria for physician-assisted suicide. New England Journal of Medicine, 32(7), 1380-1384.Ethical & Legal Dilemmas in Terminally Ill Patients

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