Assisted Suicide Details

Assisted suicide is still controversial and debated across the globe, but it is becoming increasingly legal. The term assisted suicide can also be referred to as euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide with only a slight difference in the commonly accepted definitions:

  • Euthanasia: A doctor is legally allowed to end a person's life by a painless means, as long as the patient and their family consent.
  • Assisted suicide: A doctor assists a patient to commit suicide if they request it, but the final deed is undertaken by the person themself. The term "mercy killing" or "medical aid in dying" is also used.

Assisted suicide is illegal in most countries. It may carry a prison sentence. It is, however, more widely available than euthanasia. Physician-assisted suicide is currently legal under certain circumstances in several countries:

  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Luxembourg
  • The Netherlands
  • Spain
  • Switzerland
  • Some states in the USA (California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Montana, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington)
  • Australia (Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia)

The constitutional courts of Austria, Colombia, Germany, and Italy have legalized assisted suicide, while the respective governments are yet to regulate the practice.

Although the criteria for assisted suicide differ depending on the country, the main criteria require that the patient have a terminal condition and has made the request with soundness of mind. The most common means of assisted suicide is intentionally providing a lethal dose of drugs to a person who voluntarily requests a substance to commit suicide.

Real World Example of Assisted Suicide

Oregon, USA, became the first state to legalize assisted suicide with the Death With Dignity Act (DWDA) in 1997. This act enables terminally ill Oregon residents who are 18 years or older to end their lives by voluntarily self-administering a lethal dose of medication prescribed to them by a medical practitioner for this exact purpose. The condition is that their diagnosis will likely lead to death in six months.

In April 2017, a married couple died together in their bed by taking lethal doses of medication obtained under Oregon's Death with Dignity law. The Emericks, Francie (88) and Charlie (87) died within an hour of each other after battling terminal conditions. Francie had suffered several heart attacks and cancer, while Charlie was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, cancer, and had a poor heart. Charlie learned that he had six months to live, and while Francie admitted that she could have survived a little longer, she didn't want to.

In the months leading up to their deaths, they consented to have their conversations filmed to document their preparations for death. The documentary "Living & Dying: A Love Story" details their decision leading up to the assisted suicide.

Significance of Assisted Suicide

While arguments for assisted suicide are based on compassionate reasons and a patient's autonomy to choose when they die, some argue against the practice. Citing the Hippocratic oath all doctors are required to take, the oath explicitly states, "I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it nor will I make a suggestion to this effect." Other reasons for objecting to assisted suicide are based on religious views.