Arguments in Favor of Right-to-Die Legislation

There are many arguments about whether people should have the right to die when they choose, intentionally and by design, to end their own perceived pain and suffering.

Elderly man in a hospital bed holding someones hand
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Differences of Opinion

Most of the arguments for and against the right to die are ideological, based on many important aspects of civility: the law, religion or spiritual beliefs, ethics, and social mores. Opinions vary based on personal experiences, belief systems, age, culture, and other aspects of humankind that influence how we think about important aspects of life.

Where the Right to Die Is Legal

In the United States, with the exception of a small number of states which have passed right-to-die legislation, a doctor who injects a patient who wants to die with a lethal drug and kills him would technically have committed murder. Proponents of right-to-die legislation desire a legal remedy for doctors who assist their suffering patients in ending their lives. Outside of the United States, euthanasia is the law of the land in Canada, the Netherlands, Colombia, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland.

Understanding Right-to-Die Laws

Right-to-Die legislation, also known as physician-assisted death or aid in dying, gives mentally competent adult patients with a terminal illness and a prognosis of six months or less to have the ability to request and receive a prescription medication to bring about their death. Most statutes under consideration at the state level are modeled after Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, which requires two physicians to confirm the patient’s residence, diagnosis, prognosis, mental competence, and voluntariness of the request to die. In addition, two waiting periods are required.

The Pros for Right-to-Die Laws

Here are some arguments in favor of giving patients the right to die and protecting healthcare providers who carry out those wishes. Compare these arguments in favor of death with dignity and the right to die against the cons.

  • A patient's death brings him or her the end of pain and suffering.
  • Patients have an opportunity to die with dignity, without fear that they will lose their physical or mental capacities.
  • The overall healthcare financial burden on the family is reduced.
  • Patients can arrange for final goodbyes with loved ones.
  • If planned for in advance, organs can be harvested and donated.
  • With physician assistance, patients have a better chance of experiencing a painless and less traumatic death (death with dignity).
  • Patients can end pain and suffering when there is no hope for relief.
  • Some say assisted death with dignity is against the Hippocratic Oath; however, the statement “first do no harm” can also apply to helping a patient find the ultimate relief from pain through death.
  • Medical advances have enabled life beyond what nature might have allowed, but that is not always in the best interest of the suffering patient with no hope of recovery.
  • A living will, considered a guiding document for a patient's healthcare wishes, can provide clear evidence of a patient's decisions regarding end-of-life care.
2 Sources
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  1. Pereira J. Legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide: the illusion of safeguards and controls. Curr Oncol. 2011;18(2):e38-45. doi:10.3747/co.v18i2.883

  2. Battin MP, Van der heide A, Ganzini L, Van der wal G, Onwuteaka-philipsen BD. Legal physician-assisted dying in Oregon and the Netherlands: evidence concerning the impact on patients in "vulnerable" groups. J Med Ethics. 2007;33(10):591-7. doi:10.1136/jme.2007.022335

By Trisha Torrey
 Trisha Torrey is a patient empowerment and advocacy consultant. She has written several books about patient advocacy and how to best navigate the healthcare system.