Physician-assisted suicide is the act of voluntarily ending one’s life by administering a lethal substance with the help of a medical professional. It is different from euthanasia because the physician does not administer the substance. This means the physician could give the patient a prescription for the lethal substance and advice on using it. It also lets a doctor rig a patient to a device which causes death, for example by lethal injection.
The practice is legal in the US state of Oregon, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands. However, it applies only to patients with terminal or incurable illnesses.
Patients choosing physician-assisted suicide often express the wish to ‘die with dignity’. They do not want to become helpless and possibly unable to communicate their wishes to others.
Opponents of the practice use religious and moral arguments. They say suicide is sinful or immoral. Some medical practitioners also argue that assisting a death goes against the Hippocratic oath. Others worry that making assisted suicide legal could lead to vulnerable people feeling pressured into taking their lives.
C F McKhann, A Time to die: The place for physician assistance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999)
R F Weir, Physician Assisted Suicide (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997)
D Birnbacher and E Dahl (eds.), Giving death a helping hand: physician-assisted suicide and public policy. An international perspective (Dordrecht: Springer, 2008)