Physician assisted suicide is a controversial, complicated matter that often polarizes the voting public. On the one hand, there are those who believe that patients suffering from chronic and fatal illnesses should be allowed to die with dignity, on their own terms and in peace. Having a doctor assist them with ending their own life allows them to stop this suffering and also ensures them that death will be on their own terms. No matter the side of the fence you sit when it comes to physician assisted suicide, you may be surprised to learn some statistics about this process and the legalities surrounding it, as well as public opinion and voter decisions in the past few years.
The Stats of Physician Assisted Suicide
1. There is passive euthanasia and active euthanasia. Active euthanasia refers to ending a person’s life by active means, such as with drugs. This is typically what is meant by physician assisted suicide. Passive euthanasia refers to allowing a person to die by withholding drugs, food, water, and other substances needed for survival. This is not technically considered physician assisted suicide although there are legalities covering this process when a person relies on a physician for their health and life.
2. Some 9% of deaths in the Netherlands in 1990 were the result of physician-assisted suicide, as the practice is fully legal and commonly practiced. The practice is also legal for infants and newborns who are considered extremely disabled and has reportedly also been administered for those who were deemed “chronically depressed.”
3. In the Netherlands, it is reported that some 61% of those who received a lethal dose of painkillers did not know they were being euthanized, even though some 27% of those who received these doses were reported to be fully competent and able to make this decision.
4. It is also reported that some 10,000 citizens of the Netherlands carry a “Do Not Euthanize Me” card on their person at all times in case they are in an accident and unconscious or are taken to a hospital unexpectedly.
5. In the U.S., Oregon, Washington, and Montana have legalized the practice of physician assisted suicide, and in 2013, Vermont declared that suicide with prescribed medications was a legal “medical treatment.”
6. A report prepared by the U.S. Health Division stated that no patients who requested physician assisted suicide had uncontrolled pain. According to their reports, all patients who requested this procedure instead cited social and psychological concerns.
7. The Netherlands report a failure rate of physician assisted suicide at up to 25%, but the state of Oregon did not report any complications in a four-year period.
8. In the U.S., the Supreme Court ruled twice in 1997 that there is no constitutional precedent or right to assisted suicide.
9. The states of Alaska, Florida, and Hawaii have all voted down bills that would legalize physician assisted suicide, the state of Alaska declaring that there is no law in the state constitution that gives a person the right to this procedure. California, Washington, Maine and Michigan have consistently rejected physician assisted suicide issues for their ballots.
10. Texas law requires expectant mothers to be kept alive with no euthanasia practiced, even if brain dead and if previously stated wishes declared that no life support be administered, and regardless the term of her pregnancy.
11. In 2013, some 34% of Americans stated in a Pew Research poll that they had given serious consideration to their end of life decisions, up from 28% in 1990. Some 35% of those said that they had put their wishes in writing.
12. In the same poll, some 27% said that they had not given any thought as to their end of life decisions.
13. According to research, some 66% of U.S. adults believe that a doctor or nurse should allow a patient to die in certain circumstances.
14. Some 31% of U.S. adults surveyed believe that doctors and nurses should do whatever possible to save a patient’s life. In 1990, this number was only 15%.
15. A person’s ethnicity and race affect their views regarding end of life care. According to some research, 65% of white persons say they would cease all medical treatment if they suffered from an incurable disease or had chronic, debilitating pain. However, research shows that over 60% of blacks and some 55% of Hispanics would prefer their doctors to do everything possible to save their lives in the same circumstances. Religion News Service conducted interviews regarding these views and suggest the differences may be caused by religious faith and the roles of the family.
16. Views on assisted suicide are virtually equal when it comes to public opinion; the Pew Research found that 47% of Americans are in favor of passing physician assisted suicide laws for those that are terminally ill while a close 49% are opposed to these same laws.
17. This same research has shown that an American adult’s view regarding a person’s moral right to physician assisted suicide will vary based on the person’s individual circumstances.
18. While four states in the U.S. legally allow physician assisted suicide, only 673 patients chose to die with lethal injections prescribed by doctors from 1997 to 2012 in the state of Oregon. In the state of Washington, some 240 people chose physician assisted suicide from 2009 to the end of 2012. Some 100 other patients chose to end their life by taking advantage of the Death With Dignity Act but without medication. The state of Montana does not keep statistics on its citizens who choose physician assisted suicide. The state of Vermont has had only one citizen take advantage of their law, according to their reporting.
19. According to a brief submitted to a Canadian Special Senate Committee that was appointed to review Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, cost control may become a factor in these cases.
20. This same brief noted that persons with disabilities and serious illnesses are often targets of violence more so than able-bodied persons, and that these crimes are often seen as being less serious and are treated as being less important by law enforcement. The brief noted that this devaluing of those with disabilities and illnesses has been carried over into the assisted suicide field, as happens in the Netherlands with disabled children and infants.
21. In 2006 a Gallup Poll asked if physicians should be allowed by legal means to end a person’s life using a painless procedure, if that person had a fatal disease that could not be cured and if that person and their family requested this procedure. Some 69% of those responding answered yes to the question.
22. The Hippocratic Oath, taken by those graduating medical school, originally prohibited against euthanasia along with abortion and surgery. The Oath, originally penned between 460 and 380 B.C., has since been revised.
23. The laws enacted in Washington and Oregon regarding physician assisted suicide do not require witnesses to be present when the lethal dose of medication is administered. Some have criticized this part of the law, stating that it may lead to abuses and especially elder abuse, or the administering of this procedure without a patient’s proper consent.
24. The Hemlock Society is one of the world’s largest and most active physician-assisted suicide support groups, and they openly state that they endorse this procedure for those who are not just terminally ill but for those who have “quality of life” issues. This would include those with illnesses that are not terminal and those who are disabled.
25. Dr. Jack Kevorkian spent eight years in prison for assisting in suicides before the procedure was legal. Dr. Kevorkian was a pathologist by trade, not a practicing doctor.
There are those who see a virtual Pandora’s box being opened if physician assisted suicide were to be completely legalized in all locations. Many opponents of the process fear the idea of physicians crossing the line and actually encouraging those with fatal illnesses to end their own life, as opposed to fighting to improve their quality of life. Others prefer that there be emphasis on counseling, pain management, and areas such as these so that those with such illnesses will not feel the need to terminate their life.
Still others oppose the idea of physician assisted suicide because of the types of illnesses that might cause some to want to end their life. For example, someone with advanced cancer that cannot be treated may be a candidate, but what about those with severe depression or schizophrenia, or those that are paralyzed or not terminally ill but who simply do not wish to continue living and battling an illness? Opponents of physician assisted suicide fear that those who simply have a lower quality of life or who are experiencing temporary troubles that could be otherwise treated may turn to physician assisted suicide as a means of an unnecessary but permanent solution.
Whatever your views on physician assisted suicide, it’s obvious from these facts and statistics that it is a very complicated and very polarizing issue. Anyone who has an interest in the right-to-die issue would do well to research the facts especially when it comes to the legalities and the moral questions involved. Both sides of the issue often present positive arguments for their views but these arguments should always be well-researched and studied. No matter the decision of any person or legislator, medical treatment of any sort should be considered so as to be in the best interests of the patient, and that patient should receive all the help available in order to determine just what their best interests, given their individual circumstances are.