5 things about The Economist’s cover story on assisted dying

British-based news magazine The Economist has taken a powerful stance in favour of the right to assisted dying.

In a feature editorial for its June 27 issue, the venerable, 172-year-old publication argues in commanding fashion why patients facing terrible suffering should be allowed to end their own lives with the help of a physician.

“Competent adults are allowed to make other momentous, irrevocable choices: to undergo a sex change or to have an abortion,” the editorial reads. “People deserve the same control over their own death. Instead of dying in intensive care under bright lights and among strangers, people should be able to end their lives when they are ready, surrounded by those they love.”

The magazine has devoted impressive space, including the cover, to the legalization of assisted dying, which is being considered in the U.K. The issue boasts a 4,400-word feature article documenting the recent rise in support for physician assisted dying in Western countries.

The reporting here is phenomenal, full of interesting tidbits about the movement for compassion and choice at end of life. Here are five points worth noting:

1) The Economist polled residents in 14 OECD countries, plus Russia, to compare support for assisted dying among advanced nations. End-of-life choice, the magazine found, had majority support in every country except for Poland and Russia (each of which polled just under 50 per cent.)

2) In Oregon, only about 1,300 terminally ill people have received legal prescriptions for life-ending mediation since the state passed a Dying with Dignity bill in 1997. Of those individuals, only about two-thirds actually used the treatment.

3) In the Netherlands, where assisted dying has been legal since 2002, nine out of every 10 patients who ended their lives with the help of a doctor had terminal cancer. (Every year, about three per cent of all of the deaths in that country are doctor-assisted.)

4) Terminally ill individuals who have high-quality palliative care may be more open to the idea of assisted dying than those who do not. “Some, in America and elsewhere, think that the demand for assisted dying would shrink if other options for dying patients, such as hospice care, were more widely available,” The Economist writes. “But research by Clive Seale, a sociologist at Brunel University in London, suggests otherwise. He found that terminal-cancer patients in British hospices were more likely, not less, to consider doctor-assisted dying than those in hospitals. To enter a hospice, patients must accept that they are close to death, he points out. They are planning their deaths, and such people often consider all their alternatives.”

5) Some of the most prominent champions of the right to assisted death are people with disabilities. Amidst the current debate in the U.K. surrounding end-of-life choice, famed physicist Stephen Hawking, who has a motor neuron disease, said he would consider the option of assisted death if it were legal. Canadian MP Steven Fletcher, who became a quadriplegic in 1996 after his car collided with a moose, has made it a personal mission to see assisted dying legislation passed in Parliament. (He wrote an op-ed for The Economist, which is available on the magazine's website.)


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