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The Major Myths about Death with Dignity Laws

So often, when people understand the facts about Death with Dignity laws they strongly support this important end-of-life option. In the two states with Death with Dignity Acts, a poll by the National Journal and The Regence Foundation found 77% of Oregonians and 70% of Washingtonians have a favorable opinion of their Death with Dignity Acts.

Last week, we debunked common myths opponents use to scare people about Death with Dignity on our blog, and these posts are summarized below. These lies spread by opponents are a detriment to a proper debate. Let's base this discussion on facts, shall we?

MYTHMyth 1: It's a recipe for elder abuse

Reality: The most telling sign of this lie is the lack of anything supporting the opposition's claim. In all fifteen years of the law's existence in Oregon, there's never been a case of coercion or undue influence related to the Death with Dignity Act. Not one.

LIESMyth 2: It attacks the dignity and threatens the lives of people with disabilities

Reality: This myth is a scare tactic, plain and simple, and glosses over the fact that Death with Dignity laws offer protections for all people living with or without disabilities. The multiple safeguards ensure the decision to shorten one's suffering when enduring a terminal illness rests solely in the hands of the person who's dying, and no one else.

Day 226/365Myth 3: Death with Dignity Acts are a slippery slope and will lead to euthanasia

Reality: Oregon's law has been in effect for 15 years and Washington's for three years. In order to change the scope of either law, it would take an act of the state legislature or approval of a ballot initiative by the voters. At no point in the long history of Oregon or Washington has there been any effort to expand or extend the Death with Dignity legislation to allow for euthanasia. There's been no slippery slope. It's a mentally competent, terminally ill individual's personal end-of-life decision and no one else's.


Myth 4: It's suicide

Reality: None of the moral, existential, or religious connotations of suicide apply when the patient's primary objective is not to end an otherwise open-ended span of life, but to find dignity in an already impending exit from this world. Individuals who use the law are likely to be offended by accusations of assisted suicide, because they're participating in an act to shorten the agony of their final hours, not killing themselves. Cancer (or another underlying condition) is killing them.

MythMyth 5: The Oregon and Washington laws are the same as the laws in the Netherlands

Reality: The reason opponents try to convince people the different laws are the same is to play on the slippery slope myth and to scare people into thinking about PolitiFact's 2009 Lie of the Year: 'Death Panels'. Rick Santorum tried this recently and was rebuffed by media outlets and the Dutch government.

Lie to MeBonus Myth: People would flock to Oregon to die on our beaches

Reality: This is one of the more whimsical myths which was very popular in Oregon during the 1990s, and one which has died down in popularity due to the complete lack of evidence to support it.

There's a common theme in the facts which debunk all of these myths: the years of data show Death with Dignity laws work the way they're intended and offer protections for all citizens. This is simply one end-of-life option, and people should be able to decide for themselves if it's a good fit for them if they're diagnosed with a terminal illness.

The main reason people don't agree with Death with Dignity laws is because of their own religious reasons. We, however, live in a country with separation of church and state and religious freedom. One group's religious doctrine shouldn't be the basis for state laws which affect everyone.

Posted on February 27, 2012 in Ask DDNC


  • Posted by cj on Monday, February 27 at 10:36 a.m.

    On the bonus myth...they safeguard such a thing by requiring people to become residents of the state before the law can be used. My husband went to WA for treatment for his cancer and they looked into the Death With Dignity law, but he did not want to become a resident of WA to do it.

  • Posted by John Abraham on Sunday, March 04 at 09:47 a.m.

    Good job. As a thanatologist ( I would add that death with dignity is the next great civil right to come to the fore in the country.
    And most of those in WA and OR who use the law do so because of the many forms of existential suffering, including fear of a bad death. Many do not finally bring about their own peaceful and dignified deaths, but find great comfort in knowing that such an option exists.

  • Posted by Melissa Barber on Monday, March 05 at 02:01 p.m.

    Thank you, CJ and John, for your helpful comments!

    Melissa Barber
    Electronic Communications Specialist
    Death with Dignity National Center

  • Posted by deb elkins on Thursday, April 05 at 06:44 p.m.

    My mother, who has never been sick a day or ever hospitalized for anything major, is in the late stages of liver cancer. Its a terrible thing to see, especially when now shes refused all pills...shes in constant pain..but the pills make her nauseated and dry heaves (which causes more pain). She has told my daughter 3 times today..I wish I could just go, I want to go. It pains me, but, I do agree with her. Its horrible to live in constant pain and knowing its going to drag on for who knows how long. Thanks for this page. It has helped alot. I have always stood by the right to leave this world with dignity in place.

  • Posted by Melissa Barber on Tuesday, April 10 at 02:47 p.m.

    I'm so sorry to hear your mother is suffering, Deb. You may also want to check out a couple of other end-of-life care resources as well:
    - The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization ( may be able to help you find a local organization which focuses on comfort care. Contact information: 800/658-8898 (M-F, 9:00am-5:00pm Eastern) or e-mail at
    - Palliative care ( is available in every state and focuses on pain management and providing comfort. To find a palliative physician near you check out this link for the directory of physicians:

    Melissa Barber
    Electronic Communications Specialist
    Death with Dignity National Center

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