Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Assisted dying

Safe laws on assisted dying are working worldwide

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 09 July 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e4524
  1. David Leaf, lecturer1
  1. 1University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
  1. davecharlie{at}

Opponents of voluntary euthanasia often muddy the waters with words and concepts that evoke really bad connotations.1 They are wilful misrepresentations of the facts.

Numerous independent audits of existing euthanasia laws from several jurisdictions have shown them to be safe. The “slippery slope” does not exist. Vulnerable people are less likely to take advantage of assisted dying:

Rates of assisted dying in Oregon and in the Netherlands showed no evidence of heightened risk for the elderly, women, the uninsured (inapplicable in the Netherlands, where all are insured), people with low educational status, the poor, the physically disabled or chronically ill, minors, people with psychiatric illnesses including depression, or racial or ethnic minorities, compared with background populations. The only group with a heightened risk was people with AIDS. While extralegal cases were not the focus of this study, none [has] been uncovered in Oregon; among extralegal cases in the Netherlands, there was no evidence of higher rates in vulnerable groups.2

Courtney Campbell, Hundere professor in religion and culture at Oregon State University, and not a supporter of assisted dying, nevertheless concluded in his review of the operation of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act: “The procedures embedded in the statute for ensuring informed and voluntary decisions by terminally ill patients have been substantially effective. The pre-implementation concerns of critics about coerced or compromised choices do not seem borne out in practice.”3

In Canada the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel reported: “There is no evidence from the Netherlands supporting the concern that society’s vulnerable would be at increased risk of abuse if a more permissive regime were implemented [in Canada] . . .What has emerged is evidence that the law is capable of managing the decriminalisation of assisted dying”4

Safe laws are already working well in Oregon, the Netherlands, Belgium, Washington State, Switzerland, Montana, and Luxembourg. Change is inevitable.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e4524


  • Competing interests: None declared.


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