Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Women's Health

Font Size

Who Chooses Physician-Assisted Suicide?

WebMD Health News


May 22, 2002 -- Physician-assisted suicide remains a topic of heated debate. Beyond the issue of pain and suffering, those against the practice hold that low-income, poorly educated people may elect -- or be pressured -- to die rather than heap staggering medical costs on their family or their government.

But results of a new Dutch study should put this particular concern to rest.

"The choice of euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide was not associated ... with income or education level," write study author Jan H. Veldink, MD, from University Medical Center in Utrecht, Netherlands, and colleagues.

Their findings appear in the May 23 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

His team surveyed the doctors of 203 patients who had died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease) between 1994 and 1998. The doctors completed questionnaires about their patients' end-of-life decisions.

ALS usually strikes in the mid-50s. Patients experience progressive nerve degeneration that causes loss of motor function, paralysis, and eventually death -- usually due to respiratory failure. Half of patients die within three years of symptom onset. There is currently no cure.

In this study, the terms physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia both refer to death that resulted from doctor-prescribed and administered drugs. The differences between the two were mainly technical.

Overall, 20% chose to have their doctor help them die. This choice "was not associated with any particular characteristics of the disease or of the patient's care." Generally speaking, "disability before death was significantly more severe in patients who died as a result of euthanasia than among those who died in other ways," the researchers write.

An additional 20% of the patients had received palliative, or pain-relieving, care, which "probably shortened their lives," they write.

Particularly religious patients were least likely to choose assisted suicide.

Physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal in the Netherlands, but physicians must operate "under strict conditions, including the presence of a voluntary and well-considered request, unbearable and hopeless suffering, and consultation with a second physician," the researchers write.

Belgium just passed similar legislation. And here in the U.S., Oregon's Death with Dignity Act has been in place, and is still a source of continuing controversy, since 1994. -->

Today on WebMD

hands on abdomen
Test your knowledge.
womans hand on abdomen
Are you ready for baby?
birth control pills
Learn about your options.
Is it menopause or something else?
woman in bathtub
bp app on smartwatch and phone
estrogen gene

Send yourself a link to download the app.

Loading ...

Please wait...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Blood pressure check
hot water bottle on stomach
Attractive young woman standing in front of mirror