Physician-Assisted Death

Topic Overview

Physician-assisted death refers to a practice by which physicians provide the means for a person to voluntarily cause his or her own death. This is usually done by prescribing lethal doses of medicine. Although indirectly participating in the person's death, the physician does not directly cause the death. Only a few states, such as Oregon and Washington, have legalized physician-assisted death.

A person with a terminal illness may think about physician-assisted death. Among the factors that may cause a person to consider ending his or her life are pain, depression, and fear of becoming dependent on others. A person who is dying may be concerned about being a burden to others and may not realize that loved ones want to provide care as an expression of love and as part of their own healthy grieving.

Often when a person with a terminal illness considers physician-assisted death, his or her physical or emotional symptoms are not being managed effectively. Symptoms associated with the dying process (such as pain, depression, or nausea) can be controlled. Talk to your health professional and family about your symptoms, especially if these symptoms are so bothersome you are considering ending your life.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Shelly R. Garone, MD, FACP - Palliative Medicine
Last Revised July 6, 2012

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