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The Plan: Ethics and Physician Assisted Suicide


Doug M. Post (rr)
Family Medicine
The Ohio State University College of Medicine
Doug Knutson
Family Medicine
The Ohio State University College of Medicine


This case study on physician-assisted suicide is used in a medical ethics course. The case itself is a short article published in 1991 in the New England Journal of Medicine in which Dr. Timothy E. Quill described his care for a patient suffering from acute leukemia, including how he prescribed a lethal dose of barbiturates knowing that the woman intended to commit suicide. As a consequence of the article's publication, a grand jury was convened to consider a charge of manslaughter against Dr. Quill. Students read the case and then, as part of a classroom-simulated trial, discuss physician-assisted suicide in terms of fundamental medical ethics principals. The case could also be used in a graduate-level bioethics class.


  • Identify and discuss principles of medical ethics as they apply to the topic of physician-assisted suicide.
  • Explore and share personal feelings related to physician-assisted suicide.
  • Formulate an argument that supports a position on a controversial issue.


Doctor-assisted suicide; euthanasia; mercy killing; death and dignity; right-to-die; non-maleficence; beneficence; Hippocratic Oath; Timothy Quill; Jack Kevorkian; medical ethics; bioethics

Topical Areas

Ethics, Legal issues, Scientific argumentation, Social issues

Educational Level

Graduate, Professional (degree program), General public & informal education, Continuing education, Faculty development



Type / Methods

Dilemma/Decision, Role-Play, Trial



Subject Headings

Medicine (General)  |   Nursing  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Linda Parrella
Science Department
High School
Cornwall, NY

Unfortunately, we are unable to provide copies of this journal article since the article is under copyright and the copyright is held and enforced by the publisher, who requires that you have a paid subscription to the journal in order to be able to access it. We suggest that you ask your local librarian, either your school librarian or at your public library, if they have a means of getting a copy of the article for you through their InterLibrary Loan service.


I am reading over the case lesson and the materials needed. I went to the NEJM website to print out the article: Death and Dignity: A Case of Individualized Decision Making. One must subscribe/pay to get the article. Can you suggest another place that does not require payment? Thank you!