It was just under 2 years ago when the young and beautiful Brittany Maynard brought new attention to the topic of physician-assisted suicide after her highly publicized decision to end her own life under the Oregon “Death with Dignity” act.

Since then, new bills advocating for physician-assisted suicide have been cropping up all over the country – including a DC City Council initiative to be considered next week and a Colorado ballot measure facing state voters this fall, Proposition 106.

St. Joseph, patron saint of a happy death, on his deathbed surrounded by Jesus and Mary. Credit: Lawrence OP via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

St. Joseph, patron saint of a happy death, on his deathbed surrounded by Jesus and Mary. Credit: Lawrence OP via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Even though Maynard’s story gave a fresh face and raised new awareness about the legalization of assisted suicide, a Marist poll sponsored by the Knights of Columbus found that 61 percent of Americans do not support physician-assisted suicide, and 57 percent said that the legalization of such measures would lead them to distrust their doctors. Only 22 percent said they saw the issue as a legislative priority this year.


The hype and emotion surrounding Brittany Maynard’s case have clouded some of the facts and concerns regarding the legalization of physician-assisted suicide. Therefore, we’ve compiled a list of nine reasons to oppose “Death with Dignity” legislation, should you live in a state with a ballot proposal, or should the topic arise in conversations with family or friends.

Pills. Credit: David K via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Pills. Credit: David K via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

1) Disability rights groups are opposed to “death with dignity” bills. They say it discriminates against the disabled and could lead to pressure on them to end their own lives.

2) Under many proposed assisted suicide bills, people would not be screened for depression when they request life-ending drugs. This is a huge problem. Studies have shown the majority of patients who request assisted suicide will withdraw that request when they are treated for depression.

3) These bills send the social message that suicide is an acceptable way to handle pain and suffering. When anyone else threatens to kill themselves, we intervene and stop them. This would change that standard. If suicide works for a terminal patient, why not for someone who has lost their job, or their spouse or their home? We should not be sending the message that suicide is a solution to problems.

As reported in the L.A. Times, leading palliative care doctor Ira Byock said the social stigma that would come with legalized assisted suicide matters.

“That sends a message,” Byock said. “If you’re terminally ill, it’s too expensive for us to continue to give you hospice care, but here’s this medication — go take care of yourself.”

“I think we’re better people than that.”


4) Terminal is not always terminal. Many people go on to live for decades after a terminal diagnosis. Sometimes advancements in medicine a few years down the road allow their disease or condition to be treated….but not if they have already killed themselves.

5) Some states have placed an indefinite hold on the death penalty due to concerns about the fairness of the system and margins for error. Under the same logic, more caution should be exercised with assisted suicide.

6) Under many of these bills, patients would be given lethal pills and sent home. No doctor is required to be present at the time of death. There have been several cases of botched deaths in Oregon, where a patient’s doctor was not present during the assisted suicide. Oregon has seen many abuses since they legalized “Death with Dignity”: cases of pills changing hands, either intentionally or unknowingly, with lethal results.

7) Also in Oregon, people with cancer have been denied chemo treatment, but instead offered lethal prescriptions, because it is cheaper for the insurance company. This leads to tremendous pressure on seriously ill patients to kill themselves, and sows distrust between patients and their doctors who might then seek the cheapest rather than the best route of treatment.

8) Parts of Europe that legalized assisted suicide years ago have now moved to involuntary euthanasia, where it is not the patients themselves, but family members or doctors who decide when they should be killed.

9) Leading doctors in the field of end-of-life care oppose “Death with Dignity”, saying that hospice and palliative care are often under-explored options that could be expanded and better utilized to care for people at the end of their life.