Dr. Hébert is a family physician and has taught professional ethics for over 25 years. He graduated from York University with a PhD in philosophy in 1983 and from the University of Toronto medical school in 1984. His residency in family medicine was completed at McMaster in 1986 and, since 1989, he has been on clinical staff at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Dr Hébert is a Professor Emeritus of Family Medicine at the University of Toronto and the author of a textbook on ethics for physicians and other health care professionals, Doing Right (3rd edition, 2014).
Dr. Philip Hébert
He is the recipient of many awards for teaching and service. In 2009 he received the 2nd annual William Marsden award from the CMA for his contribution to medical ethics teaching in Canada. In 2011 the College of Family Physicians of Canada named him Ontario’s Family Physician of the Year. Dr Hébert is currently writing a book on medical ethics for patients and families.
In 2010, Dr Hébert left clinical practice due to repeated back surgery and Parkinson’s Disease. He recently underwent Deep Brain Stimulation surgery with a remarkable benefit.
I have thought long and hard about this issue. Ought physicians help their patients die? In a way we do already: palliative care medicine eases the dying process and sometimes it may accelerate it. We also ease the passing of those who have refused life-sustaining treatments.
But what about doctors playing a more active role in the death of their patients — such as "assisted suicide" or "euthanasia"? Both practices are considered to be not part of the profession of health care. I now believe this is mistaken.
Having been a patient myself — and critically ill — I recognize that there are states of life that are unacceptable for some patients. Serious illness can be a soul-destroying process and it is right to expect that the medical profession consider a request for death from a patient carefully and thoroughly. Illness can itself be coercive. Life is too precious to give it up readily and one must ensure that the patient requesting an early exit has made the decision as un-coerced as possible and that there are no "reversible factors" affecting the decision. Dying and death, and the conditions under which they are acceptable to patients, ought to be ultimately and ideally, and insofar as this is possible, under the control of the patient. In medicine the needs of the individual patient must be paramount. To deny an irreversibly suffering patient access to an accelerated death out of concern that other vulnerable patients might be put at risk is an argument that could equally apply to withdrawing and withholding life-sustaining care. Yet we do this routinely every day in ICU’s around the country. It has not undermined the moral fiber of the community. Nor, I believe, with proper regulations, would more active forms of assisted dying.