Handbook for Mortals : Hastening Death

Many people are so afraid of dying in pain, of becoming helpless and dependent on others, that they want to kill themselves rather than wait for disease to take its course. People are afraid of dying alone or being attached to life support in a hospital. Picture of newspaper headlines Some fear running up huge medical bills that will bankrupt their families. And many fear the loss of dignity that comes with being very ill and dying.

When the picture is so bleak, no wonder we want to change it quickly. No wonder people want to take control over the end of life. As a society, we praise independence and freedom; if we have been in control for most of our lives, losing control at the end seems almost unbearable. But are suicide and euthanasia truly options? Do they provide a way out of pain and suffering?

Your answers to these questions depend on how you feel about the controversial issue of physician-assisted suicide or physician administration of a lethal injection. In the abstract, these are good subjects for debate. But when you are dying, or watching someone you love die, the issue hits home, leaving you feeling overwhelmed, helpless, and afraid. Thinking about hastening death, before it becomes an urgent question in your own life, can help you to understand your current options and to discuss your fears with your family or health care team.

People sometimes think that if they are being cared for by hospice, they will be able to ask for a lethal injection or an overdose of pills. However, hospice does not offer such assistance. Instead, hospice is an alternative to the technologically driven death in a hospital that so many dread.

Many people are afraid that they must be willing to hasten their death if they want to have good symptom relief. Good symptom management, however, very rarely shortens life, and even then only by a few hours.

Distinguishing suicide from physician-assisted suicide
Considering suicide
How can I spare my family from suffering?
Won’t suicide guarantee a comfortable death?
Is physician-assisted suicide legal?
Physician-assisted suicide in Oregon
Physician-assisted suicide outside Oregon
Arguments against physician-assisted suicide
Arguments supporting physician-assisted suicide
Finding a doctor you trust

Closely related:

Controlling Pain
Managing Other Symptoms
Forgoing Medical Treatment
Handbook for Mortals book cover Copyright © 1999, 2006 by Joanne Lynn. This extract from the Handbook for Mortals by Joanne Lynn, M.D. and Joan Harrold, M.D. is used with permission. To learn more about improving care at the end of life visit the main web site for Americans for Better Care of the Dying.
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