Physician-assisted suicide is a simple phrase and one that is easy for society to understand. The phrase means exactly what it says: A person takes their own life with the help of a doctor who prescribes a deadly drug overdose.

Those who desire to legalize “physician-assisted suicide” do not like using this phrase. “Suicide” has a naturally repugnant connotation in society. Thus politicians and activists alter the terminology to sound compassionate or liberating:  “The Death With Dignity Act” or “The Patient Choice at End of Life Act.”

These strategic euphemisms arouse feelings of empathy and righteousness; we want people to die with dignity and we believe in maintaining liberty. However, these false titles distract us from the real issues at the heart of physician-assisted suicide.

4 Harms of Legalizing Physician Assisted Suicide

Over the years, experts have considered the serious consequences of legalizing assisted suicide. Largely, measures to legalize physician assisted suicide have been defeated because it poses significant threats including:

  1. Failing to prohibit intentional killing and preserving human life; [1]
  2. Endangering the weak and vulnerable, [2] including the poor, elderly, disabled and terminally ill; [3]
  3. Corrupting the practice of medicine and the doctor-patient relationship. [4] The integrity and ethics of the medical profession and their role as ‘healer’ ought to be protected; [5]
  4.  Compromising the family and inter-generational commitments. [6]

1) Failing to Prohibit Intentional Killing

Physician-assisted suicide requires a doctor who “expresses a willingness to participate in taking the life of another.” [7] PAS law, as it should, allows doctors who are unwilling to provide life-ending medication to refer their patients who desire PAS to other doctors.

Thus, every doctor who prescribes such life ending medication is doing so deliberately, willingly, and with an understanding the patient intends to end their life. Such a willingness creates confusion regarding the definitions of homicide that currently exist within the law.

2) Endangering the weak and vulnerable

The New York Task Force on Law and Life, a study published in 1994 and cited in Supreme Court cases, states that “Contrary to popular opinion, suicide is not usually a reaction to an acute problem or crisis in one’s life or even to a terminal illness…Studies that examine the psychological background of individuals who kill themselves show that 95% have a diagnosable mental disorder at the time of death. Depression accompanied by symptoms of hopelessness and helplessness, is the most prevalent condition among individuals who commit suicide (terminally ill or not). This is especially true of the elderly…”[8]

The Supreme Court Case, Washington v. Glucksberg, cites additional research indicating that “many people who request physician assisted suicide withdraw that request if their depression and pain are treated.”[6] The New York Task Force “expressed its concern that, because depression is difficult to diagnose, physicians and medical professionals often fail to respond adequately to seriously ill patients’ needs (NY Task Force at 175).”

Dr Leon Kass, a former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, has this to say regarding physician-assisted suicide: “(It) is, in fact, the state’s abdication of its duty to protect innocent life and its abandonment especially of the old, the weak, and the poor.”[10]

3) Corrupting the Ethics and Integrity of the Medical Field

The Hippocratic Oath states, “To please no one will I (the physician) prescribe a deadly drug, nor give advice which may cause his death”[11]. The oath does not merely state that a doctor will “do no harm” but that they will not prescribe a deadly drug nor give advice which will lead to death, regardless of what will “please” a patient, their family, government, the doctor, or anyone else.

Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at U.C. Irvine School of Medicine said of the Oregon statistics, “This constitutes medical negligence…To abandon suicidal individuals in the midst of a crisis-under the guise of respecting their autonomy-is socially irresponsible: It undermines sound medical ethics and erodes social solidarity.”[12]

4) Compromising the Family and Inter-generational Commitments

Our parents cared for us when we were unable to care for ourselves. We therefore have a natural responsibility to love and care for our aging parents to the best of our abilities, even when they are terminally ill. Certainly we may need professional help to do so but such help does not absolve us of all responsibility. We should do all we can to reasonably promote the life, liberty, and happiness of the elderly in our lives, regardless of personal circumstances, ours and theirs.

Physician-assisted suicide law harms natural familial responsibility. “The temptation to view elderly or disabled family members as burdens will increase, as will the temptation for those family members to internalize this attitude and view themselves as burdens. Physician-assisted suicide undermines social solidarity and true compassion.”[13]


Whether a bill is titled “Death with Dignity” or “Patient Choice at End of Life”, the pills provided through these prescriptions are intended to be taken for the purpose of ending a life. Suicide is defined as “the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally.” [14] These bills dangerously legalize physician-assisted suicide.

C.S. Lewis once wrote: “Most, I fancy, have discovered that to be born is to be exposed to delights and miseries greater than imagination could have anticipated; that the choice of ways at any cross-road may be more important than we think; and that short cuts may lead to very nasty places.”[15]

Let’s avoid the legalization of “short cuts”. Let us put our efforts into helping these patients and their families find what they are truly looking for: cures, alleviation of pain, usefulness, and joy in the time they have left. Above all, let us love them with all of our hearts.


  1. Washington v. Glucksberg; 521 US 702 (1997);
  2. “Always Care, Never Kill: How Physician-Assisted Suicide Endangers the Weak, Corrupts Medicine, Compromises the Family, and Violated Human Dignity and Equality”, Ryan Anderson, The Heritage Foundation; March 24, 2015,
  3. [4] Washington v. Glucksberg; 521 US 702 (1997);
  4. “Always Care, Never Kill,” Ryan Anderson
  5. Washington v. Glucksberg; 521 US 702 (1997);
  6. “Always Care, Never Kill,” Ryan Anderson
  7. Washington v Glucksberg, p.716
  8. When Death Is Sought; Chap 1 “The Epidemiology of Suicide” p. 11 (May 1994)
  9. H.Hendin, Seduced by Death: Doctors, Patients and the Dutch Cure 24-25 (1997)
  10. Leon R. Kass, “Dehumanization Triumphant,” First Things, August 1996,
  11. “Hippocratic Oath”,
  12. Aaron Kheriaty, “Apostolate of Death,” First Things, April 2015, p. 19; also found in “Always Care, Never Kill…”
  13. “Always Care, Never Kill:…”, 2015
  15. “The Vision of John Bunyan”, C.S. Lewis, Selected Literary Essays; p.153; 1962