Ethical Issues in End-of-Life Care: The Issues Associated with Appropriate End-of-life Interventions Involve Ethical, Moral, and Legal Decisions by Patients and their Physicians.

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Background: Physicians who treat patients approaching the end of life often face moral, ethical, and legal issues involving shared decision making, futility, the right to refuse medical treatment, euthanasia, and physician-assisted suicide.

Methods: The author examines cases that involve these issues and also reviews the ethical principles that guide current medical practice. Issues such as end-of-life ethical questions, the right to life-sustaining therapy, medical futility, the distinction between killing and allowing to die, and physician-assisted suicide are discussed.

Results: The principal problem involves the appropriate use of technology at the end of life. While developments in technology have enhanced our ability to prolong life, issues have also arisen regarding the resulting quality of life, the sometimes marginal benefits to our patients, and the burdens that this technology imposes on patients, families, and society.

Conclusions: Legal and ethical issues continue to confront patients, courts, and physicians. A better understanding of these issues and an awareness of the availability of effective palliative care will help physicians, patients, and families adequately address the end-of-life issues that are an intrinsic part of medical care.

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Cancer Control, v. 6, issue 2, p. 162-167