No evidence physician-assisted death leads to 'slippery slope'

Sep 27, 2007

There is no evidence that legalised physician assisted suicide, results in disproportionate numbers of vulnerable people having their lives ended prematurely by doctors, finds research in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Opponents of legislation, which enables doctors to help people to die, have claimed that it leads to a “slippery slope.”

It makes it easier to end the lives of those who might be deemed a burden to society or their families, such as those with disabilities, stigmatised disease, or mental illness, they say.

But an analysis of figures from the Netherlands and Oregon, USA, where physician assisted dying is legal, shows that this is not the case.

The authors assessed all cases recorded as physician assisted deaths in Oregon, USA, between 1998 and 2006, as well as three independent studies on the topic.

And they looked at end of life decisions in The Netherlands in four government sponsored nationwide surveys conducted in 1990, 1995, 2001 and 2005, as well as specialised research.

The figures show that only a few people choose the option of physician assisted suicide.

In Oregon, 292 people have taken advantage of the legislation since it came on to the statute books in 1997. This amounts to 0.15% of all deaths.

In The Netherlands, voluntary euthanasia and physician assisted suicide have been tolerated since the 1980s, and legal since 2002, provided strict guidelines are followed.

Advance directives, requesting euthanasia in the event of a coma or dementia, are now also legal.

Around 1.7% of all deaths are categorised as voluntary euthanasia, and 0.1% as physician assisted suicide in The Netherlands.

The average age of people receiving help to die was around 70 in both places. Most had cancer.
There were higher numbers of people with AIDS among those choosing to die with the aid of their doctor, the data showed.

But there was no evidence of any excess bias towards race, gender, age, socioeconomic status, disability, chronic illness or mental ill health in either place.

No prosecutions related to illegal deaths have been brought in Oregon. And of those brought in the Netherlands, there was no evidence that those from vulnerable groups have featured more heavily.

“We found no evidence to justify the grave and important concern often expressed about the potential for abuse,” say the authors.

The evidence “does show that there is no current factual support for so called slippery slope concerns about the risks of legislation of assisted dying - concerns that death in this way would be practised more frequently on persons in vulnerable groups,” they conclude.

Source: BMJ Specialty Journals

Explore further: Low sodium levels increases liver transplant survival benefit in the sickest patients

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Obama recommends extended wilderness zone in Alaska

13 hours ago

US President Barack Obama said Sunday he would recommend a large swath of Alaska be designated as wilderness, the highest level of federal protection, in a move likely to anger oil proponents.

NASA craft set to beam home close-ups of Pluto

13 hours ago

Nine years after leaving Earth, the New Horizons spacecraft is at last drawing close to Pluto and on Sunday was expected to start shooting photographs of the dwarf planet.

Navy wants to increase use of sonar-emitting buoys

15 hours ago

The U.S. Navy is seeking permits to expand sonar and other training exercises off the Pacific Coast, a proposal raising concerns from animal advocates who say that more sonar-emitting buoys would harm whales ...

Uganda seizes massive ivory and pangolin haul

15 hours ago

Ugandan wildlife officers have seized a huge haul of elephant ivory and pangolin scales, representing the deaths of hundreds of endangered animals, police said Sunday.

Recommended for you

Is head CT overused in emergency departments?

Jan 26, 2015

Less than 7.1% of patients presenting to the emergency department with dizziness and 6.4% complaining of syncope or near-syncope benefited from head CT say researchers at Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Honolulu. The use of ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.