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Terminology associated with the Death with Dignity Act

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The following information about terminology related to the Death with Dignity Act was compiled by the nonprofit Compassion & Choices of Oregon (

“Death-with-Dignity” and “Aid in Dying” are not “Assisted Suicide”

As the public and policymakers discuss end-of-life options, it is critical to describe accurately the medical option of terminally ill people self-administering prescribed medicine to shorten a dying process they find unbearable. “Aid in dying” is the most neutral term to describe what advocates call “death with dignity” and opponents call “assisted suicide.”

It is wrong to equate “suicide,” which about 30,000 Americans, suffering from mental illness, tragically resort to each year, with the death-with-dignity option utilized by only 160 terminally ill, but mentally competent, patients in Oregon and Washington last year.

Assisted suicide statutes are designed to stop people from helping mentally unbalanced, despondent people violently kill themselves. Neither the statute nor the term accurately applies to terminally ill people who want to live, but, given their imminent death, choose to die peacefully.

Using inaccurate, biased and pejorative term “assisted suicide” underestimates public support for “aid in dying”

A May 2013 Gallup survey proves that the term "assisted suicide" is inaccurate, biased and pejorative in this context. It found 70 percent of Americans support allowing doctors to "end the [terminally ill] patient's life by some painless means,” but only 51 percent support doctors helping a terminally ill patient "commit suicide," a huge 19-point difference.

Medical groups are adopting “aid in dying” term and supporting medical practice of it

Increasingly, medical groups have adopted the more neutral term “aid in dying” to refer to this choice.

The nation’s largest public health association, the American Public Health Association, supports “aid in dying,” recognizing that: “the term ‘suicide’ or ‘assisted suicide’ is inappropriate when discussing the choice of a mentally competent terminally ill patient to seek medications that he or she could consume to bring about a peaceful and dignified death.”

The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, American College of Legal Medicine, American Medical Student Association, American Medical Women’s Association and Washington State Psychological Association have adopted similar policies.

State laws legalizing “aid in dying” clearly state they do not authorize “assisted suicide”

A growing number of states, including Oregon, Washington, Montana, Hawaii, and Vermont permit mentally competent, terminally ill patients to obtain medications they can ingest to bring about a peaceful death if their suffering becomes unbearable.

The Oregon, Washington, and Vermont laws emphasize that: “Actions taken in accordance with [the Act] shall not, for any purpose, constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing or homicide, under the law.”

Patients who access “death with dignity” find the term “assisted suicide” offensive

Patients who choose aid in dying find the suggestion that they are committing “suicide” deeply offensive, stigmatizing and inaccurate. Many of them have publicly expressed that the term is hurtful and derogatory to them and their loved ones.

Dying patient Louise Schaefer eloquently captured this emotional outrage in a letter she wrote to The Sacramento Bee:

“All I am asking for is to have some choice over how I die. Portraying me as suicidal is disrespectful and hurtful to me and my loved ones. It adds insult to injury by dismissing all that I have already endured; the failed attempts for a cure, the progressive decline of my physical state and the anguish which has involved exhaustive reflection and contemplation leading me to this very personal and intimate decision about my own life and how I would like it to end.”


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Related to this story

In May 2012, terminally ill Kings Valley resident Ben Wald opted to hasten the end of the his life with a doctor-prescribed lethal medication through Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act

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