Talking Points

1.  What is physician-assisted suicide?

The American Medical Association defines physician-assisted suicide as follows:  "Physician-assisted suicide occurs when a physician facilitates a patient’s death by providing the necessary means and/or information to enable the patient to perform the life-ending act (eg, the physician provides sleeping pills and information about the lethal dose, while aware that the patient may commit suicide)."  (A.M.A. Code of Medical Ethics, Opinion 2.211). 

2.  Is it true that most states have rejected assisted suicide?

Yes.  There are just two states where assisted suicide is legal: Oregon and Washington.

3.  Why is assisted suicide a recipe for elder abuse?

In Oregon and Washington, assisted suicide statutes have significant gaps that put elders at risk.  The most obvious gap is a lack of witnesses when the lethal dose is administered. Without disinterested witnesses, the opportunity is created for an heir, or another person who will benefit from the death, to administer the lethal dose to the person against his will. Even if the person struggled, who would know?[1] 

4.  How does legal assisted suicide empower the government, not the individual?

In Oregon, patients under the Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid) have been steered to suicide.  The most well-known cases involve Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup.  See Susan Donaldson James, "Death Drugs Cause Uproar in Oregon," ABC News, August 6, 2008 and "Letter noting assisted suicide raises questions," KATU TV, July 30, 2008.

Wagner and Stroup each wanted treatment.  Id. The Oregon Health Plan offered them assisted suicide instead.  Id.  Neither Wagner nor Stroup saw this as a celebration of their  "rights."  Wagner said: “I'm not ready to die.” (KATU article).  Stroup said: “This is my life they’re playing with.”  (ABC News article).

Wagner and Stroup were steered to suicide.  Moreover, it was the Oregon Health Plan, a government entity, doing the steering.  State-sanctioned suicide empowers the government, not the individual.

5.  Will legalization of assisted suicide apply to people who aren't dying?

Probably, yes.  In Washington and Oregon, assisted suicide laws apply to people diagnosed with less than six months to live.  These people are not necessarily dying.  See e.g. Nina Shapiro, “'Terminal Uncertainty,' Washington’s new 'Death with Dignity' law allows doctors to help people commit suicide - once they’ve determined that the patient has only six months to live. But what if they’re wrong?" The Seattle Weekly, January 14, 2009.

Treatment can also lead to recovery.  Oregon resident, Jeanette Hall, who was diagnosed with cancer and told that she had six months to a year to live, states:

"I wanted to do our [assisted suicide] law and I wanted my doctor to help me. Instead, he encouraged me to not give up . . . I had both chemotherapy and radiation. . . .

It is now 10 years later. If my doctor had believed in assisted suicide, I would be dead."

6.  Will legalization of physician-assisted suicide in Hawaii affect our suicide rate for other suicides?

If we follow Oregon’s pattern, yes.  Oregon's suicide rate, which excludes suicides under its physician-assisted suicide law, has been "increasing significantly" since 2000.[2]  Just three years prior, in 1997, Oregon legalized physician-assisted suicide.[3]  This significant increase is consistent with a suicide contagion.  In other words, normalizing one type of suicide encouraged other suicides. 

7.  Are there any documented cases of anyone using assisted suicide for untreatable physical pain?

No.  There is no documented case of anyone using physician-assisted suicide for actual untreatable physical pain.  See e.g. William Toffler, MD, "What People Mean When They Say They Want to Die," A Statement to the BBC, 2008.  According to the most recent annual report from Oregon, just 10 people (15.4%) who died under Oregon's act reported a concern about "inadequate pain control or concern about it" as a reason for their lethal dose request."  See Table 1 to the 2010 Oregon Report, page 2, available at

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[1]  See Margaret K. Dore, "Aid in Dying: Not Legal in Idaho; Not About Choice," The Advocate, official publication of the Idaho State Bar, Vol. 52, No. 9, pages 18-20, September 2010 (discussing the Oregon and Washington laws). 
[3] "Oregon's Death with Dignity Act: The First Year's Experience," page 1 ("On October 27, 1997, physician-assisted suicide became . . . legal . . ."). Available at: