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Physician-Assisted Suicide and Death Tourism: Fake Choices and Dangerous Abuses

By William Lawyer

Over the last few years, the United States has seen a significant increase in the number of states allowing physician-assisted suicide.1 Similar to euthanasia, where a doctor intentionally causes a patient’s death, physician-assisted suicide involves the prescription of lethal drugs that patients can then take themselves.

Currently, 10 states and the District of Columbia allow for physician-assisted suicide.2 As of 2023, residency requirements no longer apply in some of these states. Nonresidents can legally travel to these locations to end their lives. This process is known as death tourism. 

Death tourism

Death tourism, also called suicide tourism, has always existed, but it is slowly growing more common. This is not only due to changing laws but because doctors and clinics in those states are marketing their services to nonresidents.3 Today, Vermont, having changed its law in May 2023, is technically the only state where this is legal.4

Residency requirements in other states, however, are often not obeyed. This is particularly true in Oregon. After a 2022 lawsuit regarding the residency requirement, the Oregon Medical Board and the Oregon Health Authority agreed to stop enforcing the rule and are pushing to change the law.5

While Vermont’s legal change is too recent to provide data on its effects, Oregon has some of the best information available. Yet it also has out-of-state data limitations. For instance, Oregon tracks physician-prescribed suicide deaths through death certificates. But it only receives death certificates for Oregon residents or for people who die in the state. If an out-of-state resident received a prescription in Oregon but then left the state to die, that person’s death would not be included in the physician-assisted suicide statistics.

Current statistics show that people from out of state seeking PAS in Oregon make up only around 1% of known deaths, but the true number may be much higher.6

Popularity of physician-assisted suicide and misunderstandings

Physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia are often relatively popular ideas, at least in principle. Nearly three-fourths of American adults support voluntary euthanasia to some degree.7 One study revealed that around 60% of doctors believe that physician-assisted suicide should be legal.8

The same study, however, also shows that doctors are misinformed about relevant facts. Nearly half (49%) of respondents said that pain is the most common reason that people seek physician-assisted suicide. But, as the study reveals about Oregon respondents, “physical pain is not even in the top five reasons why patients seek PAS.” Instead, it is often an attempt to regain some sense of control.

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