Volume 17, Issue 3, Autumn 2017
John F. Roth
Opiates and the Removal of Life Support
A Moral Obligation of Health Care Providers
Medical and nursing personnel have an obligation to provide the medication necessary for every patient’s pain relief. This includes patients whose life-supporting mechanical ventilation is being removed, who may not exhibit traditional signs of pain or dyspnea. The purpose of this paper is not to argue a position on withdrawing life support. Rather, it argues that nurses and physicians have an obligation to provide pain-relieving medication, such as opiates, when life support is removed, to ensure that those entrusted to their care do not experience pain or significant distress. This is based on the principle of double effect, by which two actions, one intended and one unintended, may be permissible if there is a proportionate reason. The goal in these situations is never to hasten death intentionally but to make patients’ pain and suffering tolerable as a matter of compassionate and loving care.