physician-assisted suicide

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Physician-assisted suicide is an end of life measure for a person suffering a painful, terminal illness. It is considered a form of active voluntary euthanasia, also described as a mercy killing or the “right to die.” During a physician-assisted suicide, large doses of painkilling medication are administered by a licensed medical professional. This is in contrast to assisted suicide, where the patient is provided with the medication to end their own life.

Physician-assisted suicide is illegal in most countries as it involves one person actively causing another person’s death. It is legal in some countries however: Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and some states in Australia. In the United States, physician-assisted suicide is not recognized as a right on the federal level following the ruling of Washington v. Glucksberg. However, some states have recognized the right to physician-assisted suicide through death with dignity statutes. That being said, physician-assisted suicide is never legal if it is involuntary or of the patient is for some reason unable to consent to life-ending measures.

[Last updated in July of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]