Euthanasia and assisted suicide: facts, figures and fancies with special regard to old age

Drugs Aging. 1998 Sep;13(3):185-91. doi: 10.2165/00002512-199813030-00001.


The objective of this paper is to describe the ethics and incidence of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (EAS) with special regard to old age. It is based on an assumption that if and when a practice of euthanasia and EAS is allowed, several vulnerable groups, including the elderly, may become a 'population at risk'. We describe some of these claims, and make an inventory of the arguments against a permissive policy concerning euthanasia and EAS which emphasise inherent dangers for the elderly. We then give an overview of the results of empirical studies about incidence of (request for) euthanasia and assisted suicide in the Netherlands, Australia, the UK, the US, Denmark and Norway. These results confirm that practitioners do receive requests for EAS and that EAS is performed in all these countries. However, there are large differences between these countries with regard to the numbers of requests and performances. Dutch findings concerning the age distribution of patients who received euthanasia or assisted suicide indicate that these procedures are rare in the elderly and in nursing homes. We conclude that, although euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal, there is evidence that these practices occur in all countries studied. Most surveys on the incidence of euthanasia show lower figures than those in the Netherlands. Dutch studies do not provide any evidence for the elderly being in danger of becoming 'victims' of euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Empirical Research*
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Euthanasia*
  • Euthanasia, Active*
  • Humans
  • Internationality
  • Persons
  • Suicide, Assisted*
  • Vulnerable Populations
  • Wedge Argument