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European Division of WFRtDS

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What is the Difference Between Assisted Dying and Euthanasia?

Assisted death is a model that includes both what has been called physician-assisted "suicide" and voluntary active euthanasia. It suggests a difference in the degree of involvement and behavior. Physician-assisted suicide entails making lethal means available to the patient to be used at a time of the patient’s own choosing. By contrast, voluntary active euthanasia entails the physician taking an active role in carrying out the patient’s request, and usually involves intravenous delivery of a lethal substance. Physician-assisted suicide is seen to be far easier emotionally for the physician than euthanasia as he or she does not have to directly cause a death; he or she merely supplies the means for the patient’s personal use. My own study of non-physician-assisted death bears out this claim; those less directly involved have fewer difficulties overall accepting their actions. Supporters of physician-assisted suicide say that it carries the added benefit of allowing the patient to determine the time of death and provides the opportunity for the patient to change his or her mind up to the last moment. I would argue that this possibility equally exists in cases of voluntary active euthanasia, and may even enable a physician to discuss topics of motives and options with the patient one last time. The use of self-administered oral lethal drugs, while it provides a certain freedom of timing, does carry the risk of error, however, and needs to be completed while the patient is still well enough to swallow, hold down substances, and metabolically absorb these drugs. Fear of this risk is widespread among patients and, because of this, some may act earlier than necessary to avoid it. Euthanasia contains a much smaller chance for mistakes and may be necessary in cases where a patient is too sick for self-administration, or no longer capable of swallowing, holding down food, or absorbing oral medication. If a patient knows that a physician can always intervene, the act of assisted death may be permanently postponed.