Pros and Cons
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Last updated on: 3/13/2009 7:29:00 AM PST

Should Euthanasia or Physician-Assisted Suicide Be Legal?

PRO (yes) CON (no)
The American Civil Liberties Union stated in its 1996 amicus brief in Vacco v. Quill that:

"The right of a competent, terminally ill person to avoid excruciating pain and embrace a timely and dignified death bears the sanction of history and is implicit in the concept of ordered liberty. The exercise of this right is as central to personal autonomy and bodily integrity as rights safeguarded by this Court's decisions relating to marriage, family relationships, procreation, contraception, child rearing and the refusal or termination of life-saving medical treatment. In particular, this Court's recent decisions concerning the right to refuse medical treatment and the right to abortion instruct that a mentally competent, terminally ill person has a protected liberty interest in choosing to end intolerable suffering by bringing about his or her own death.

A state's categorical ban on physician assistance to suicide -- as applied to competent, terminally ill patients who wish to avoid unendurable pain and hasten inevitable death -- substantially interferes with this protected liberty interest and cannot be sustained."

1996 - The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) 

Margaret P. Battin, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Adjunct Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Utah, and Timothy E. Quill, MD, Professor of Medicine, Psychiatry, and Medical Humanities at the University of Rochester, stated the following in their 2004 book Physician-Assisted Dying: The Case for Palliative Care & Patient Choice:
"We firmly believe that physician-assisted death should be one--not the only one, but one--of the last-resort options available to a patient facing a hard death. We agree that these options should include high dose pain medication if needed, cessation of life-sustaining therapy, voluntary cessation of eating and drinking, and terminal sedation. We also believe, however, that physician-assisted dying, whether it is called physician-assisted death or physician aid in dying or physician-assisted suicide, should be among the options available to paients at the end of life."

2004 - Timothy E. Quill, MD 
Margaret P. Battin, PhD 

Jasper Emmering, MD, research physician, stated the following in a June 9, 2007 email to

"I support legal euthanasia for a number of reasons. First comes the principle of sovereignty of the individual over his own body. Then there is a practical matter: the moral distinction between abstaining from life-saving treatment, palliative sedation and euthanasia is very murky, for me it doesn't exist at all. Therefore it makes no sense that the first two are legal while the third is not.

Lastly, I think that 'involuntary euthanasia' (euthanasia without the patient's permission, i.e. murder) may very well be more common in countries where doctors can go to jail just for suggesting euthanasia as an option. Of course there's no data on this, but my common sense tells me that when the doctor is not afraid to ask, you don't have to be afraid that he'll do it without asking."

June 9, 2007 - Jasper Emmering, MD 

Jack Kevorkian, MD, a retired pathologist also known as 'Dr. Death' who has aided over 130 people in ending their lives, stated the following in a 1990 interview with Cornerstone magazine:
"I believe there are people who are healthy and mentally competent enough to decide on suicide. People who are not depressed. Everyone has a right for suicide, because a person has a right to determine what will or will not be done to his body. There’s no place for people to turn today who really want to commit suicide. Teenagers, and the elderly especially, have nowhere to turn. But when they come to me, they will obey what I say because they know they’re talking to an honest doctor." 

1990 - Jack Kevorkian, MD 

The 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso, PhD), spiritual leader and Head of State of the Tibetan government in exile, stated the following in a 1985 letter to Asiaweek:
"In the event a person is definitely going to die and he is either in great pain or has virtually become a vegetable, and prolonging his existence is only going to cause difficulties and suffering for others, the termination of his life may be permitted according to Mahayana Buddhist ethics."

1985 - Tenzin Gyatso, PhD 

Marcia Angell, MD, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, stated the following in her July 11, 2006 article "The Quality of Mercy," published in the Willits News:

"There is no right way to die, and there should be no schism between advocates for better palliative care and advocates for making it possible to hasten death with a physician's help. Good palliative care and the right to make this choice are no more mutually exclusive than good cardiologic care and the availability of heart transplantation. To require dying patients to endure unrelievable suffering, regardless of their wishes is callous and unseemly. Death is hard enough without being bullied. Like the relief of pain, this too is a matter of mercy...

I've never taken a public position on euthanasia, only on physician-assisted suicide (which I support)."

July 11, 2006 - Marcia Angell, MD 

Faye Girsh, EdD, Senior Adviser at the Final Exit Network, stated the following in her Winter 2001 article "How Shall We Die," published in Free Inquiry:
"At the Hemlock Society we get calls daily from desperate people who are looking for someone like Jack Kevorkian to end their lives which have lost all quality... Americans should enjoy a right guaranteed in the European Declaration of Human Rights--the right not to be forced to suffer. It should be considered as much of a crime to make someone live who with justification does not wish to continue as it is to take life without consent."

Winter 2001 - Faye Girsh, EdD 

Philip Nitschke, MD, Director and Founder of Exit International, stated the following in his June 5, 2001 interview "Euthanasia Sets Sail," published in the National Review Online:
"My personal position is that if we believe that there is a right to life, then we must accept that people have a right to dispose of that life whenever they want... I do not believe that telling people they have a right to life while denying them the means, manner, or information necessary for them to give this life away has any ethical consistency."

June 5, 2001 - Philip Nitschke, MD 

Martin Gold, JD, Partner at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, stated the following in his Oct. 1996 "Brief of Amicus Curiae Bioethicists Supporting Respondents," Vacco v. Quill and Washington v. Glucksberg:

"[P]hysicians, in carrying out their ethical duty to relieve the pain and suffering of their terminally-ill patients, should be legally permitted to accede to the desire of a patient to hasten death when the patient's decision is voluntarily reached, a patient is competent to make the decision, and the patient has been fully informed of the diagnosis and prognosis of an incurable, fatal disease which has progressed to the final stages...

The right to physician-assisted suicide should be recognized by this Court as a fundamental right... Moreover, the amicus group agrees with the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Quill that the denial of physician-assisted suicide is a denial of equal protection to terminally-ill patients who do not have the option of hastening death by requesting the removal of life support systems."

Oct. 1996 - Martin Gold, JD 

Barbara Coombs Lee, JD, President of Compassion and Choices, stated the following in her Apr. 29, 1996 testimony before the US House Subcommittee On The Constitution concerning the legality of assisted suicide:

"The problem is that medical science has conquered the gentle and peaceful deaths and left the humiliating and agonizing to run their relentless downhill course. The suffering of these individuals is not trivial and it is not addressed by anything medical science has to offer. Faced with this dilemma, the problem for many is that the law turns loving families into criminals. It separates loved ones at the end, when it is most important to be close. It encourages patients to choose violent and premature deaths while they still have the strength to act. And it forces some to suffer through a slow and agonizing death that contradicts the very meaning and fabric of their lives...

When we know that certain rare and desperate cases call for a compassionate response in the form of assisted death our democratic heritage demands that the law be consistent with that knowledge."

Apr. 29, 1996 - Barbara Coombs Lee, JD 

Patrick Hopkins, PhD, Professor of Philosophy at Millsaps College, stated the following in his May 1, 1997 article "Why Does Removing Machines Count as 'Passive' Euthanasia?," published in the Hastings Center Report:
"[I]f we are cruel in refusing to let nature free patients from the trap of technology, we are both cruel and conceptually blind when we refuse to let technology free patients from the trap of nature... When we remove machines playing these functional roles from hurting and hopeless patients, we kill those 'trapped by technology.' But this is not a bad thing. It is bad when we refuse to grant people trapped by nature the same benefit."

1997 - Patrick Hopkins, PhD 

Frances M. Kamm, PhD, Lucius Littauer Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, stated the following in her 1998 article "Physician-Assisted Suicide, Euthanasia, and Intending Death," published in Physician-Assisted Suicide: Expanding the Debate:
"We have constructed a three-step argument for physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia: Assuming patient consent, 1) we may permissibly cause death as a side effect if it relieves pain, because sometimes death is a lesser evil and pain relief a greater good; 2) we may permissibly intend other lesser evils to the patient, for the sake of her greater good; 3) therefore, when death is a lesser evil, it is sometimes permissible for us to intend death in order to stop pain. Call this the Three-Step Argument."

1998 - Frances M. Kamm, PhD 

Helene Starks, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical History and Ethics at the University of Washington at Seattle, stated the following in a Jan. 5, 2007 email to
"I believe that physician-assisted suicide should be legalized because that allows for more scrutiny and application of the safeguards. The practice is happening regardless of the legal status; keeping it illegal has the potential to cause more harm than good as it restricts access to knowledgable social services and health care providers who may help patients and families explore other options to achieving a good death, leaving PAS [physician-assisted suicide] as truly an option of last resort."

Jan. 5, 2007 - Helene Starks, PhD, MPH 

Michael White, JD, Member of the Board of Directors at the Death With Dignity National Center, stated the following during an Apr. 22, 1997 speech, "Should Physician-Assisted Suicide be Legalized?," at the Fred Friendly Seminar:
"Physician-assisted suicide should be a lawful medical procedure for competent, terminally ill adults, because it is a compassionate response to relieve the suffering of dying patients."

Apr. 22, 1997 - Michael White, JD 

The Death With Dignity National Center stated the following on its website page "About Death With Dignity." accessable at (accessed Jan. 21, 2009):

"The greatest human freedom is to live, and die, according to one's own desires and beliefs. The most common desire among those with a terminal illness is to die with some measure of dignity. From advance directives to physician-assisted dying, death with dignity is a movement to provide options for the dying to control their own end-of-life care.

Death with Dignity National Center (DDNC) is the leader in this movement, successfully establishing, advancing and defending the landmark Oregon Death with Dignity Act."

Jan. 21, 2009 - Death with Dignity National Center (DDNC) 

Peter Rogatz, MD, MPH, Vice President of Compassion and Choices of New York, stated the following in his Nov. - Dec. 2001 article "The Positive Virtues of Physician-Assisted Suicide: Physician-Assisted Suicide is Among the Most Hotly Debated Bioethical Issues of Our Time," The Humanist:
"Physician-assisted suicide isn't about physicians becoming killers. It's about patients whose suffering we can't relieve and about not turning away from them when they ask for help. Will there be physicians who feel they can't do this? Of course, and they shouldn't be obliged to. But if other physicians consider it merciful to help such patients by merely writing a prescription, it is unreasonable to place them in jeopardy of criminal prosecution, loss of license, or other penalty for doing so."

Nov. - Dec. 2001 - Peter Rogatz, MD, MPH 

The American Medical Association (AMA) stated in its June 1996 article "Decisions Near the End of Life," available at

"It is understandable, though tragic, that some patients in extreme duress--such as those suffering from a terminal, painful, debilitating illness--may come to decide that death is preferable to life. However, permitting physicians to engage in euthanasia would ultimately cause more harm than good. Euthanasia is fundamentally incompatible with the physician's role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.

The involvement of physicians in euthanasia heightens the significance of its ethical prohibition. The physician who performs euthanasia assumes unique responsibility for the act of ending the patient's life. Euthanasia could also readily be extended to incompetent patients and other vulnerable populations.

Instead of engaging in euthanasia, physicians must aggressively respond to the needs of patients at the end of life. Patients should not be abandoned once it is determined that cure is impossible. Patients near the end of life must continue to receive emotional support, comfort care, adequate pain control, respect for patient autonomy, and good communication." 

June 1996 - American Medical Association (AMA) 

Courtney S. Campbell, PhD, Professor of Ethics, Science, and the Environment in the Department of Philosophy at Oregon State University, stated the following in a May 16, 2007 email to
"I am opposed to the legalization of voluntary euthanasia for terminally ill patients as administered by physicians (it goes without saying I would opposed involuntary euthanasia as well). While I respect and advocate for patients to have control and dignity in dying, it is contrary to the vocation of medicine to intentionally hasten or cause death. In all cases (medical or non-medical), taking human life should be a last resort, and until our society has given appropriate attention to pain control, hospice care, and advance directive, we will not have met the criteria of last resort with respect to legalized euthanasia. I accept refusal or non-treatment of patients with terminal conditions wherein the underlying cause of death is a disease or organic pathology."

May 16, 2007 - Courtney S. Campbell, PhD 

Daniel Callahan, PhD, Director of International Programs at the Hastings Center, stated the following in his 2004 book The Case Against Assisted Suicide: For the Right to End-of-Life Care:
"This path to peaceful dying rests on the illusion that a society can safely put in the hands of physicians the power directly and deliberately to take life, euthanasia, or to assist patients in taking their own life, physician-assisted suicide... It threatens to add still another sad chapter to an already sorry human history of giving one person the liberty to take the life of another. It perpetuates and pushes to an extreme the very ideology of control--the goal of mastering life and death--that created the problems of modern medicine in the first place. Instead of changing the medicine that generates the problem of an intolerable death (which, in almost all cases, good palliative medicine could do), allowing physicians to kill or provide the means to take one's own life simply treats the symptoms, all the while reinforcing, and driving us more deeply into, an ideology of control."

2004 - Daniel Callahan, PhD 

Pope Benedict, XVI, 265th Pope of the Catholic Apostolic Roman Church, stated the following in his July 2004 article "Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles," available at
"The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin...

Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia... While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."

July 2004 - Pope Benedict XVI 

Michael Manning, MD, author and former medical practitioner, stated the following in his 1998 book Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide: Killing or Caring?:
"I believe the evidence leads to the conclusion that we must not legalize euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. Instead, our society should mobilize a life-giving health care system that includes compassionate care for the dying, adequate analgesia and human comforts near the end of life, and widespread education about the right to refuse burdensome medical care."

1998 - Michael Manning, MD 

Bernard Baumrin, PhD, MD, Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York, stated the following in his 1998 article "Physician, Stay Thy Hand!," in the book Physician Assisted Suicide: Expanding the Debate:
"Doctors must not engage in assisting suicide. They are inheritors of a valuable tradition that inspires public trust. None should be even partly responsible for the erosion of that trust. Nothing that is remotely beneficial to some particular patient in extremis is worth the damage that will be created by the perception that physicians sometimes aid and even abet people in taking their own lives." 

1998 - Bernard Baumrin, PhD, MD 

Wesley Smith, JD, anti-euthanasia activist, stated the following in his 1997 book Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope From Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder:
"The equality-of-human-life ethic requires that each of us be considered of equal inherent moral worth, and it makes the preservation and protection of human life society's first priority. Accepting euthanasia would replace the equality-of-human-life ethic with a utilitarian and nihilistic 'death culture' that views the intentional ending of certain human lives as an appropriate and necessary answer to life's most difficult challenges. As I hope to demonstrate in this book, the dire consequences that would flow from such a radical shift in morality are profound and disturbing."

1997 - Wesley J. Smith, JD 

Robert Beezer, LLB, Judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, stated the following in his 1996 dissenting opinion in Compassion in Dying v. Washington:
"Constitutional protection for a right to assisted suicide might spawn pressure on the elderly and infirm--but still happily alive--to 'die and get out of the way.' Also at risk are the poor and minorities, who have been shown to suffer more pain (i.e. they receive less treatment for their pain) than other groups... Further, like the elderly and infirm, they, as well as the handicapped, are at risk of being unwanted and subjected to pressure to choose physician-assisted suicide rather than continued treatment...

The poor, the elderly, the disabled and minorities are all at risk from undue pressure to commit physician-assisted suicide, either through direct pressure or through inadequate treatment of their pain and suffering. They cannot be adequately protected by procedural safeguards, if the Dutch experience is any indication. The only way to achieve adequate protection for these groups is to maintain a bright-line rule against physician-assisted suicide."

1996 - Robert Beezer, LLB 

The Family Research Council stated the following on its webpage "Human Life and Bioethics," available at (accessed Jan. 21, 2009):
"Disabling diseases and injuries, including those for which there is a terminal diagnosis, are tragic. However, there is no such thing as a life not worth living. Every life holds promise, even if disadvantaged by developmental disability, injury, disease, or advanced aging. FRC believes that every human life has inherent dignity, and that it is unethical to deliberately end the life of a suffering person (euthanasia), or assist or enable another person to end their life (assisted suicide). While extraordinary means of life support, such as assistance with respiration and heart function, may be withdrawn from a terminally ill person if that is the person's expressed wish, nutrition and hydration are normal and not extraordinary means of maintaining life, and severe disability is not the same as terminal illness. True compassion means finding ways to ease suffering and provide care for each person, while maintaining the individual's life and dignity."

Jan. 21, 2009 - Family Research Council (FRC) 

Sissela Bok, PhD, Senior Visiting Fellow at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, stated the following in the 1998 article "Physician-Assisted Suicide," in the book Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide: For and Against:
"I continue to find great and needless risks in moving toward legalizing euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. I also remain convinced that such measures will not deal in any way adequately with the needs of most persons at the end of life, least of all in societies without adequate health care insurance available to all. No society has yet worked out the hardest questions of how to help those patients who desire to die, without endangering others who do not. There is a long way to go before we arrive at a social resolution of those questions that does not do damage to our institutions."

1998 - Sissela Bok, PhD 

Leon Kass, MD, PhD, Addie Clark Harding Professor at the University of Chicago, stated the following in his Winter 1989 article "Neither for Love nor Money: Why Doctors Must Not Kill," published in Public Interest:
"The prohibition against killing patients... stands as the first promise of self-restraint sworn to in the Hippocratic Oath, as medicine's primary taboo: 'I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect'... In forswearing the giving of poison when asked for it, the Hippocratic physician rejects the view that the patient's choice for death can make killing him right. For the physician, at least, human life in living bodies commands respect and reverence--by its very nature."

Winter 1989 - Leon Kass, MD, PhD 

Diane Coleman, JD, Founder and President of Not Dead Yet, stated the following in her article "Assisted Suicide and Disability," (accessed Feb. 9, 2007):
"Assisted suicide has been marketed to the American public as a step toward increasing individual freedom, but choice is an empty slogan in a world full of pressures on people with chronic illnesses and disabilities. Now is not the time to establish a public policy securing the profits of a health care system that abandons those most in need and would bury the evidence of their crime."

Feb. 9, 2007 - Diane Coleman, JD 

The American College of Physicians stated the following in its Aug. 7, 2001 position paper "Physician-Assisted Suicide," published in the Annals of Internal Medicine:
"The American College of Physicians–American Society of Internal Medicine (ACP–ASIM) does not support the legalization of physician-assisted suicide. The routine practice of physician-assisted suicide raises serious ethical and other concerns. Legalization would undermine the patient–physician relationship and the trust necessary to sustain it; alter the medical profession’s role in society; and endanger the value our society places on life, especially on the lives of disabled, incompetent, and vulnerable individuals. The ACP–ASIM remains thoroughly committed to improving care for patients at the end of life."

2001 - American College of Physicians 

The Islamic Medical Association stated the following in its May 13, 1996 article "Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide," available at
"The IMA [Islamic Medical Association] endorses the stand that there is no place for euthanasia in medical management, under whatever name or form (e.g., mercy killing, suicide, assisted suicide, the right to die, the duty to die, etc.). Nor does it believe in the concept of a willful and free consent in this area. The mere existence of euthanasia as a legal and legitimate option is already pressure enough on the patient, who would correctly or incorrectly, read in the eyes of his/her family the silent appeal to go."

May. 13, 1996 - Islamic Medical Association 

The International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide stated the following in its "Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: Frequently Asked Questions," available at (accessed Jan. 21, 2009):
"The government should not have the right to give one group of people (e.g. doctors) the power to kill another group of people (e.g. their patients).

Activists often claim that laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide are government mandated suffering. But this claim would be similar to saying that laws against selling contaminated food are government mandated starvation.

Laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide are in place to prevent abuse and to protect people from unscrupulous doctors and others. They are not, and never have been, intended to make anyone suffer."

Jan. 21, 2009 - International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide 

William Burke, MD, PhD, Professor at Saint Louis University Health Sciences Center, stated the following in a Jan. 4, 2007 email to
"In many states it is now legal to euthanize disabled persons by starvation and dehydration without any evidence of their wishes based on the 'best interest' form of substituted judgement... In my view this is not only murder it is torturing a person to death. Why do state and Federal law allow this barbaric behaviour?"

Jan. 4, 2007 - William Burke, MD, PhD 

The New York State Task Force on Life and the Law stated in its 1994 book When Death Is Sought: Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the Medical Context:
"American society has never sanctioned assisted suicide or mercy killing. We believe that the practices would be profoundly dangerous for large segments of the population, especially in light of the widespread failure of American medicine to treat pain adequately or to diagnose and treat depression in many cases. The risks would extend to all individuals who are ill. They would be most severe for those whose autonomy and well-being are already compromised by poverty, lack of access to good medical care, or membership in a stigmatized social group. The risks of legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia for these individuals, in a health care system and society that cannot effectively protect against the impact of inadequate resources and ingrained social disadvantage, are likely to be extraordinary."

1994 - New York State Task Force on Life and the Law 

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated the following in its Sep. 12, 1991 article "Statement on Euthanasia," posted on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website:

"As Catholic leaders and moral teachers, we believe that life is the most basic gift of a loving God--a gift over which we have stewardship but not absolute dominion. Our tradition, declaring a moral obligation to care for our own life and health and to seek such care from others, recognizes that we are not morally obligated to use all available medical procedures in every set of circumstances. But that tradition clearly and strongly affirms that as a responsible steward of life one must never directly intend to cause one's own death, or the death of an innocent victim, by action or omission...

We call on Catholics, and on all persons of good will, to reject proposals to legalize euthanasia."

Sep. 12, 1991 - United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 

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