Oregon has legalized and implemented physician-assisted suicide, while observers argue about the moral import of attempting to formulate guidelines; the utility any set of guidelines can have for physician practice, health care providers, patients, or families; and whether guidelines can really protect against harm or abuse. What were once theoretical questions have taken on new urgency.
The debate over the value and power of guidelines includes the following questions: What has been the experience of efforts to implement physician-assisted suicide using consensus guidelines? What goals are guidelines intended to serve? Who should formulate guidelines? What features should be reflected in any proposed guidelines to make them practical and to permit achievement of their goals? Are there any fundamental obstacles to the creation or implementation of guidelines? Is dying a process that is amenable to direction under guidelines, be they issued by physicians, departments of health, blue ribbon panels, or other regulatory bodies? This paper explores these questions as physician-assisted suicide becomes legal.