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Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide: focus on the data

We should aim at improving the care of dying patients

Modern debates about legalising euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (PAS) in Great Britain and the United States began in the late 19th century.1 Legislation was periodically proposed only to be defeated until, in 1942, Switzerland decriminalised assistance in suicide for cases when there were no “selfish motives”.2 In 2002, euthanasia was legalised in the Netherlands and Belgium, then in Luxembourg in 2009, and most recently, in 2015 in Colombia and in 2016 in Canada.3 PAS, but not euthanasia, has been legalised in five US states. In Oregon, PAS was legalised by popular referendum in 1997. In addition, in 2009, Washington State legalised PAS by referendum and Montana by court ruling; Vermont in 2013 and California in 2015 also legalised PAS by legislation.4

Debates about legalisation of euthanasia and PAS continue in a number of countries and states. On both sides, there are many claims and counterclaims that may not cohere with our empirical understanding. To ensure evidence-based discussions and policy formulation, it is important to consider three major points regarding the practices of euthanasia and PAS.

First, euthanasia and PAS are rarely used, even in countries where these interventions are legal and…