Physician Assisted Death

“We want to retain the autonomy – the freedom – to be the authors of our own lives. This is the very marrow of being human.”

Ronald Dworkin, philosopher and scholar of US constitutional law.

Physician assisted death (PAD) is the voluntary termination of one’s own life, by self administration of a lethal combination of medications, with the indirect assistance of a physician having confirmed a terminal diagnosis. It is the practice of providing a competent patient with a prescription for medication for the patient to use with the primary intention of ending his or her own life. It is also referred to as physician assisted suicide or death with dignity.  More recently Compassion and Choices also refers to it as medical aid in dying. 


As hospice nurses working in Oregon, the first state to legalize PAD, we have had the honor of witnessing many patients exercise their personal choice and legal right to end their life with the assistance of medication. General belief for this choice is that palliation or treatment of symptoms causing suffering has failed, but in our experience this is not the reason they reach for this option. In the circle of life we gladly accept that as infants and children we are dependent on others to care for us and meet our basic needs. It is at the end of this continuum when our body energies fade, we once again become dependent on others. This is more often the reason patients choose PAD. The wish to avoid dependence upon others and ultimately retain final control of their life is their priority.


There are currently eleven states that have legalized PAD. You may search
the Web for your State’s law regarding its use. There are numerous entries
with discussions regarding the moral and ethical ramifications of these laws.