"No One Here Gets Out Alive”: The Science, Politics, and Law of Death and Dying

In the Balance: Bringing Science to Justice with David Faigman


Thursday, January 15, 2015 • 7:00 p.m.
Exploratorium, Pier 15, Bay Observatory Gallery
Included with museum admission.
Adults Only (18+)


Five to one, baby
One in five
No one here gets out alive
—Jim Morrison

Is there a constitutional right to “physician-assisted suicide”? What about a “dignified death”—and what is a dignified death? Should terminally ill patients facing mental incapacitation or unbearable pain have access to fatal ingestion—also known as physician aid in dying? Or would that jeopardize our society’s progress toward more compassionate, comfort-based care?

In California, a person is legally dead when all brain functions, or all circulatory and respiratory functions, irrevocably cease. In cases of brain death, a person on life support may still breathe or maintain a heartbeat, obscuring the boundaries between life and death. And in other cases, a person may be alive in the legal sense, persisting in a vegetative state, but only through medical support. Physicians are compelled to make every intervention to save a life, regardless of expense or prognosis. And yet there are times when treatments are considered unhelpful, unwanted, or at worst, to interfere with a patient’s autonomy over the dying process.

Join host David Faigman and Dr. John Luce and Dr. Laura Petrillo of the University of California at San Francisco to discuss the facts, legal ramifications, and ethical concerns surrounding physician aid in dying. Learn how medical professionals can facilitate a peaceful and personally meaningful dying process, and share your insights on this important topic.


Dr. John M. Luce is Emeritus Professor of Clinical Medicine and Anesthesia at UCSF. He is a member of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) and a Director of the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation. Dr. Luce’s research interests include biomedical ethics and treatment of the acute respiratory distress syndrome. He has authored or edited nine medical books and over two hundred medical articles, editorials, and book chapters.

Dr. Laura Petrillo is a Hospice and Palliative Medicine fellow at UCSF. She received her MD from UCSF in 2011 and completed internal medicine residency at UCSF in 2014. Dr. Petrillo has written for GeriPal, a medical weblog on geriatrics and palliative care, and is interested in medical decision-making and communication at the end of life.  

David L. Faigman is the John F. Digardi Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law and Director of the UCSF/UC Hastings Consortium on Law, Science, and Health Policy. An expert on the integration of scientific research into legal decision making, Professor Faigman belonged to the National Academy of Sciences panel that investigated the scientific validity of polygraphs and is a member of the MacArthur Law and Neuroscience Network.