- From Our Journals
Medically Assisted Dying and Suicide: How Are They Different, and How Are They Similar?
Abstract: The practice of medically assisted dying has long been contentious, and the question of what to call it has become increasingly contentious as well. Particularly among U.S. proponents of legalizing the practice, there has been a growing push away from calling it “physician-assisted suicide,” with assertions that medically assisted dying is fundamentally different from suicide. Digging deeper into this claim about difference leads to an examination of the difference between two kinds of suffering—suffering from physical conditions and suffering from psychological conditions—and therefore leads also toward an examination of whether requests for medical assistance in dying by those suffering from psychological conditions and those suffering from physical conditions should be painted with the same brush.
In this article, I aim both to illuminate some of the considerations that ought to be included in discussions related to medically assisted dying and to shed light on what the indirect effects of such discussions can be. I consider some of the reasons commonly given for holding that suicide and medically assisted dying differ fundamentally and then whether the conclusion that medically assisted dying should not be called “suicide” follows from the premises. I ask what else might justify the conclusion that the two acts ought to be called by different names, and I examine possible justifications for accepting this premise, as well as what justifications might exist for emphasizing how the acts are alike. Finally, I argue that we should be cautious before concluding that medically assisted dying should not be called “suicide.” We need more evidence either that the two acts are fundamentally different or that emphasizing differences between them is not likely to do more harm than good.