Premises and evidence in the rhetoric of assisted suicide and euthanasia

Int J Law Psychiatry. Sep-Dec 2013;36(5-6):427-35. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2013.09.003. Epub 2013 Oct 18.


In debates about euthanasia and assisted suicide, it is rare to find an article that begins with an expression of neutral interest and then proceeds to examine the various arguments and data before drawing conclusions based upon the results of a scholarly investigation. Although authors frequently give the impression of being impartial in their introduction, they invariably reach their prior conclusions. Positions tend to be clearly dichotomized: either one believes that the practice of euthanasia or assisted suicide is totally acceptable or completely unacceptable in a just and moral society. Where there is some admission of a gray zone of incertitude, authors attempt to persuade us that their beliefs (preferences) are the only sensible way to resolve outstanding dilemmas. The practice of vehemently promoting a "pro" or "con" position may be useful when societies must decide to either legalize certain practices or not. Although only a handful of countries have thus far accepted the legal practice of euthanasia or assisted suicide (Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, the U.S. states of Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, and Switzerland), scholarly articles in recent trends mainly promote legalization, to the point of recommending expansion of the current practices. Is this a case of the philosophers being ahead of their time in promoting and rationalizing the wave of the future? Alternatively, does the small number of countries that have legalized these practices indicate a substantial gap between the beliefs and desires of common citizens and the universe of the 'abstracted realm'? For the time being, what we do know is that more countries and states are debating legalization of euthanasia or assisted suicide, the nature of laws and legal practices vary greatly and both ethical and empirical assessments of current practices are the subject of much controversy. This article presents an examination of the premises and evidence in the rhetoric of assisted suicide and euthanasia. Inasmuch as any analysis cannot be totally impartial, we do not contend that our analysis is without influence from our experiences and philosophical affinities. Notwithstanding this caveat, we venture to propose that our scrutiny of the arguments and empirical data may offer some guidance to individuals who are attempting to reach practical conclusions based upon the available evidence, whether empirical or rationalized.

Keywords: Assisted suicide; Euthanasia; Rational suicide; Slippery slope; Suicide.

MeSH terms

  • Belgium
  • Euthanasia, Active / ethics
  • Euthanasia, Active / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Euthanasia, Active / trends
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Netherlands
  • Personhood
  • Policy Making
  • Suicide, Assisted / ethics
  • Suicide, Assisted / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Suicide, Assisted / trends
  • Switzerland
  • United States