Pain Relief for the Dying: The Unwelcome Intervention of the Criminal Law

53 Pages Posted: 23 Feb 2010

Date Written: 1997


This Article addresses physician-assisted suicide and the medical treatment of pain and suffering. Part II discusses various medical misconceptions about the treatment of pain and how modern medicine fails to fulfill this aspect of its palliative care role. Part III reviews how the law currently circumscribes the patient and doctor's ability to make medical decisions when the patient is terminally ill. As will be shown, the law is clearer and more respectful of good medical practice than most medical practitioners currently believe. Moreover, this section will also establish that, while several competing philosophical positions surrounding physician-assisted suicide exist, these same philosophies harmoniously approve of aggressive pain treatment.

Part IV examines the role of the criminal law in medical treatment decisions, particularly those made at the end of life, regarding palliative care to relieve pain and suffering. It will in no way exhaust the subject of end-of-life medical treatment, nor will it discuss every possible place at which the practice of medicine and the criminal law might cross paths. Rather, Part IV considers some of the most important points of intersection between the two, and attempts to clarify the most significant principles of law and ethics that apply when the criminal law seeks to scrutinize medical decisions about palliative care to dying persons. It then should be apparent that the rush to legalize assisted suicide is misdirected and diversionary.

Keywords: Criminal law, assisted suicide, pain treatment, pain medication, medical negligence, morphine, euthanasia

Suggested Citation

Haugen, Phebe S., Pain Relief for the Dying: The Unwelcome Intervention of the Criminal Law (1997). William Mitchell Law Review, Vol. 23, 1997, William Mitchell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1997-01, Available at SSRN:

Phebe S. Haugen (Contact Author)

Mitchell Hamline School of Law ( email )

875 Summit Ave
St. Paul, MN 55105-3076
United States

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