What is Medical Aid in Dying?

Medical aid in dying (MAID) is the practice in which a mentally capable and terminally ill adult with less than six months to live has the option to request and obtain a prescription medication that will end their life. The process to obtain the prescription is strict with multiple safeguards. After obtaining the prescription a person may ingest the medication to die peacefully at the time and place that they choose.

How Does Medical Aid in Dying Differ from Euthanasia?

With medical aid in dying, the terminally ill person must take the medication themselves unaided and therefore, always remains in charge. Euthanasia is illegal in the United States and requires a third party to administer the medication.

What’s Wrong with Referring to Medical Aid in Dying as “Physician-Assisted Suicide?”

Factually, legally, and medically speaking, it is inaccurate to equate medical aid in dying with assisted suicide. A person who seeks medical aid in dying already has a terminal prognosis of six months or less to live. They are not choosing to die; a disease is taking their life. Further, medical aid in dying is not considered suicide—in any form—in the jurisdictions with a medical aid in dying law.

The American Association of Suicidology (AAS) states:

In general, suicide and physician aid in dying are conceptually, medically, and legally different phenomena, with an undetermined amount of overlap between these two categories. The American Association of Suicidology is dedicated to preventing suicide, but this has no bearing on the reflective, anticipated death a physician may legally help a dying patient facilitate, whether called physician-assisted suicide, Death with Dignity, physician-assisted dying, or medical aid in dying. In fact, we believe that the term “physician-assisted suicide” in itself constitutes a critical reason why these distinct death categories are so often conflated, and should be deleted from use. Such deaths should not be considered to be cases of suicide and are therefore a matter outside the central focus of the AAS.

The term “medical aid in dying” is the accepted language used in the healthcare and legal communities. It best defines the process in objective and respectful language.

Can’t people just kill themselves with a gun or drugs if they want to die?

Forcing a dying person to use illicit drugs or violence against themselves is cruel to the dying person and their family and friends. Terminally ill patients are often screened by their oncologist for depression and suicidal ideation. When needed, treatments can be provided in terms of medication and therapy. It does not change the course of their illness but can enhance their quality of life. Medical aid in dying laws include safeguards for patients by requiring clearance by two separate physicians. If there are any concerns about the patient’s mental capability the process is stopped and the patient is referred for a mental health evaluation. As a society, we must support suicide prevention efforts for anyone suffering from mental health issues.

Should we be worried that some might try to coerce sick, elderly, or disabled people to use medical aid in dying?

No. In the more than 40 combined years of experience with medical aid in dying in states where it is authorized, there has not been a single substantiated accusation of abuse or coercion.

Medical aid-in-dying laws make it a felony to coerce someone to request the medication or to forge a request. Under existing laws, two physicians must certify that the person’s request is informed and free of undue influence or coercion, and two witnesses who personally know the dying person must attest that the person is making a voluntary, informed decision and without undue influence or coercion.

Only the dying person may self¬-administer the medication; administration of the medication by any other person is a felony.

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