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: Liver transplant recipient marks 25th anniversary

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Valuing versatility

May 01, 2013

It's often said that we live in an age of increased specialization: physicians who treat just one ailment, scholars who study just one period, network administrators who know just one operating system.

Recommended for you

Doctor behind 'free radical' aging theory dies

Nov 25, 2014

Dr. Denham Harman, a renowned scientist who developed the most widely accepted theory on aging that's now used to study cancer, Alzheimer's disease and other illnesses, has died in Nebraska at age 98.

Mexican boy who had massive tumor recovering

Nov 25, 2014

An 11-year-old Mexican boy who had pieces of a massive tumor removed and who drew international attention after U.S. officials helped him get treatment in the southwestern U.S. state of New Mexico is still recovering after ...

New medical device to make the mines safer

Nov 21, 2014

Dehydration can be a serious health issue for Australia's mining industry, but a new product to be developed with input from Flinders University's Medical Device Partnering Program (MDPP) is set to more effectively ...

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.