Physician aid-in-dying: cautionary words

Curr Opin Anaesthesiol. 2014 Apr;27(2):177-82. doi: 10.1097/ACO.0000000000000046.


Purpose of review: Physician-assisted suicide (PAS) and euthanasia have been increasingly discussed in end-of-life care, as PAS and euthanasia have now been legalized in three European countries and PAS has been legalized in Washington, Oregon, and Montana in the USA. This review focuses on some aspects of PAS and euthanasia and discusses deep terminal sedation (DTS), which is increasingly used to treat intractable symptoms at the end of life.

Recent findings: PAS and euthanasia present potential risks for vulnerable populations, such as the depressed and disabled. The Oregon experience does not allow specific analysis regarding disabled patients, but fewer psychiatric consultations are being done to evaluate patients for depression. In the Netherlands, a small number of patients undergo euthanasia without an explicit request. Twenty percent of cases go unreported, raising questions of whether they met legal standards. The use of DTS in all countries has increased, but in a significant number of cases, DTS is used with an explicit intent to hasten death. Double-effect arguments to justify DTS may not actually apply.

Summary: Caution is warranted regarding PAS and euthanasia, as vulnerable patients may still be at risk. More research is needed to characterize the use (and misuse) of DTS.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Deep Sedation
  • Depression / psychology
  • Euthanasia / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Suicide, Assisted / ethics*