Death With Dignity Remains a Controversial Topic

While many providers are in favor of physician-assisted dying, others are against it, and payment may also become a barrier.

Death with dignity — also referred to as physician-assisted dying – is a controversial topic for both patients and providers alike. According to a recent small poll of the Oncology Nursing News audience, many nurses are in favor of death with dignity, regardless of whether or not they live in a state where it is legal.

“When are [lawmakers] truly going to make Death with Dignity a right, not a right to ‘ask permission?’” one respondent said.

Per current regulations, there are 8 states (California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington) plus Washington DC that have Death with Dignity statutes. Residents in these locations still must qualify to use physician-assisted suicide.

In addition to living in a state where it is legal, the adult must also meet the following criteria:

• Be mentally competent and able to make — and communicate – healthcare decisions

• Be diagnosed with a terminal illness that at least 2 physicians declared would lead to death within 6 months

• Be capable to administer/ingest the medications without assistance1

The drug often used for Death with Dignity is a barbiturate — usually pentobarbital or secobarbital.

Since Death with Dignity is not legal nationwide, federal insurers, including Medicaid and Medicare, cannot be used for physician-assisted dying services. Additionally, patients must find a physician who is willing to participate, and many are against the act for either personal or religious reasons.

“Are the laws too complicated for dying patients?” one survey respondent asked.

When we asked our readers their stance on Death with Dignity, 100% responded that they were in favor — half of participants lived in states where it was legal, and half did not.

“I am a nurse and my mother is a retired nurse. We were with my stepfather, a retired neurologist, when he died peacefully after taking the medication made available through Oregon's Death with Dignity Act. I would like to know how much nurses actually understand the process of qualifying for the law and how they would have conversations with patients who make some form of request for access,” one nurse responded. “I live in Ohio and advocate for legislation through Ohio End-of-Life Options.”


Death with Dignity. Frequently Asked Questions. Accessed April 20, 2020.