Last updated on: 4/12/2018 | Author:

What Is Physician-Assisted Suicide?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

[Editor’s Note: Some people find our use of the phrase “physician-assisted suicide” inaccurate and inappropriate, and they suggest we use the phrase “physician aid in dying” instead. As of Feb. 26, 2018 Google showed 2.38 million results for “physician assisted suicide,” 1.63 million results for “medical aid in dying,” and 740,000 results for “physician aid in dying.” In an effort to make our nonpartisan research accessible to the largest possible audience, we have used the more popular phrase “physician-assisted suicide.” We do not mean to show support for or opposition to the practice by using the more common terminology.]

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, in an entry accessed on Apr. 11, 2018 and available at, defined “physician-assisted suicide” as:

“[S]uicide by a patient facilitated by means (such as a drug prescription) or by information (such as an indication of a lethal dosage) provided by a physician aware of the patient’s intent.”

Apr. 11, 2018 - Merriam-Webster Online

Michael Manning, MD, author, defined physician-assisted suicied in his 1998 book Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide: Killing or Caring?:

“A physician providing medications or other means to a patient with the understanding that the patient intends to use them to commit suicide.”

1998 - Michael Manning, MD

The American Geriatrics Society’s website defined physician-assisted suicide in its position paper on the subject (accessed Apr. 6, 2006):

“When a physician provides either equipment or medication, or informs the patient of the most efficacious use of already available means, for the purpose of assisting the patient to end his or her own life.”

Apr. 6, 2006 - American Geriatrics Society

Sissela Bok, PhD, Senior Visiting Fellow at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, in her chapter “Physician-Assisted Suicide” from the 1998 book Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide: For and Against, explained:

“The term ‘physician-assisted suicide’ is a neologism, perhaps less than ten years old, employed in challenges to laws prohibiting doctors (as well as all others) from being direct accessories to suicide… Depending on who is speaking, it has been used for activities as different as physicians prescribing pills for a patient and explaining what amounts would be needed to bring about death, and Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s far more active part in construction and operating the contraptions used for the ‘patholysis’ that he has dramatized, photographed, and videotaped, with the patient executing the last step.”

1998 - Sissela Bok, PhD

Kathleen Foley, MD, Professor of Neurology, and Herbert Hendin, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, wrote in the introduction to their 2002 book, The Case Against Assisted Suicide: For the Right to End-of-Life Care:

“In physician-assisted suicide, the patient self-administers the lethal dose that has been prescribed by a physician who knows the patient intends to use it to end his or her life. Both the terms ‘physician-assisted suicide’ and ‘euthanasia’ are often avoided by their advocates, who prefer the nonspecific euphemism ‘assistance in dying.'”

2002 - Herbert Hendin, MD Kathleen Foley, MD

Margaret P. Battin, PhD, Professor of Philosophy, and Timothy E. Quill, MD, Professor of Medicine, wrote in the introduction to their 2004 book, Physician-Assisted Dying: The Case for Palliative Care & Patient Choice:

“In the introduction and in the title of the book, we use the term physician-assisted dying because it is descriptively accurate and carries with it no misleading connotations. Other contributors to this volume prefer the synonymous term physician-assisted suicide because it is technically accurate, and still others prefer physician aid in dying because it is relatively neutral. Although suicide can be considered heroic or rational depending on setting and philosophical orientation, in much American writing it is conflated with mental illness, and the term suggests the tragic self-destruction of a person who is not thinking clearly or acting rationally. Although distortion from depression and other forms of mental illness must always be considered when a patient requests a physician-assisted death, patients who choose this option are not necessarily depressed but rather may be acting out of a need for self-preservation, to avoid being destroyed physically and deprived of meaning existentially by their illness and impending death. While in general we use the more neutral term physician-assisted death for this reason, we have allowed our authors–and ourselves–to use any of the three terms interchangeably.”

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