Several countries have adopted laws that regulate physician assistance in dying. Such assistance may consist of providing a patient with a prescription of lethal medication that is self-administered by the patient, which is usually referred to as (physician) assistance in suicide, or of administering lethal medication to a patient, which is referred to as euthanasia. The main aim of regulating physician assistance in dying is to bring these practices into the open and to provide physicians with legal certainty. A key condition in all jurisdictions that have regulated either assistance in suicide or euthanasia is that physicians are only allowed to engage in these acts upon the explicit and voluntary request of the patient. All systems that allow physician assistance in dying have also in some way included the notion that physician assistance in dying is only accepted when it is the only means to address severe suffering from an incurable medical condition. Arguments against the legal regulation of physician assistance in dying include principled arguments, such as the wrongness of hastening death, and arguments that emphasize the negative consequences of allowing physician assistance in dying, such as a devaluation of the lives of older people, or people with chronic disease or disabilities. Opinion polls show that some form of accepting and regulating euthanasia and physician assistance in suicide is increasingly supported by the general population in most western countries. Studies in countries where physician assistance in dying is regulated suggest that practices have remained rather stable in most jurisdictions and that physicians adhere to the legal criteria in the vast majority of cases.
Keywords: assisted suicide; end-of-life decisions; ethics; euthanasia.
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