euthanasia and assisted suicide

One of the definitional components of euthanasia is mercy. It is often referred to as “mercy killing.” Euthanasia laws tend to apply to the terminally ill, at least at first, for this reason. In the cases of both assisted suicide and euthanasia, the implication is that death is preferable to the pain and suffering caused by the patient’s illness. 


The problem with euthanasia and assisted suicide legalization is that this implication, that it is better to die than to suffer, disproportionately affects the elderly and the disabled. As we will see in the statistics below, it creates a discriminatory double standard in which able-bodied people who say they want death are offered suicide prevention and people with illnesses or disabilities who say the same are offered suicide assistance.

Defining terms

When we say "euthanasia," we are referring to the direct killing of a patient by a physician. This may be voluntary or involuntary.

When we say "assisted suicide," we are referring to situations in which a patient requests aid in dying, and a physician prescribes lethal medication for the patient to take on their own.

Some proponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide may use "medical aid in dying" as a euphemism for either.

Why do people seek assisted suicide?

Proponents of legal assisted suicide typically come from a place of compassion; they don't want people to suffer unbearable pain, and that is understandable. No one wants that. However, statistics show that the concerns of patients requesting assisted suicide are primarily not issues of pain, but of disability. From a study of the results of Oregon's 2013 Death with Dignity Act

91% of patients cited “loss of autonomy” as one of the concerns that led to them requesting assisted suicide. 89% cited a fear of being “less able to engage in activities.” 81% cited “loss of dignity," 50% cited “loss of control of bodily functions," and 40% cited “feelings of being a burden."

We should not simply accept that fears of disability are driving people to suicide. Everyone deserves suicide prevention care — including those who are ill or disabled. 


With our current medical technology, pain can be managed. Suffering can be lessened. Steps can be taken to address a patient’s concerns, such as home care services to relieve feelings of burdening family. We should never accept direct killing as a solution to suicidal ideation. 

did you know?

Out of all the national disability rights organizations in the United States, every organization that has taken a stance on assisted suicide legalization opposes it.

Check out this Disability Rights Toolkit for Advocacy Against Legalization of Assisted Suicide from Not Dead Yet for more information.

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