Euphemisms that wipe out choices in doctor prescribed suicide

Why are people under doctor prescribed suicide laws called burdens, and saddled with euphemisms that paint their life as less "worth-it"?


By Mark Rollo, M.D., MCFL Board of Directors

A woman by the name of Kathryn Judson brought her husband to a doctor in Oregon.  He was ill and as soon as he entered the waiting room, he collapsed in a half-exhausted heap in the chair.  

Yes, he was a “burden” to her. Clearly, he needed to be carried, emotionally and physically. So, the doctor advised him to consider assisted suicide.  “Think of what it will spare your wife, we need to think of her,” he told them both.  In Oregon, doctor prescribed suicide is legal and encouraged. Yet the primary reason for Oregonians requesting lethal drugs is a feeling that they are burden to family and caregivers.   You see, being a burden is undignified.  Being helpless is being less-worth-it. Being ill is another way of being less human, clearly.

But  another doctor was obtained. He treated Kathryn’s husband as a valuable patient, and Kathryn’s husband lived five more years.

A culture of death is aided by corruption of language.  Euphemisms obsscure our ability to see the victims involved in doctor prescribed suicide, and erase the risks inherent in its advancement in our legislature.  

Take this euphemism:  death with dignity. Proponents of assisted suicide view dignity in utilitarian terms.  If you are dependent on others, you lack dignity. You require help and can be labeled a burden, you lack dignity.  If you have no control over your bodily functions, you have lost your dignity. 

 Really?  Shall we base a person’s dignity on whether or not he can use the bathroom on his own?  The answer is yes if you view dignity as mere autonomy. However, true dignity is the intrinsic worth of the person.  It is the worth that all human beings have by the fact of their humanity, not their abilities. is It isn’t given to us  by insurance or government bean counters. Basing dignity on use puts us in an instantly dangerous place. We cannot measure the intrinsic dignity of the person by how much his or her life is going to cost others.  

Medical aid in dying is another common euphemism of the death culture.  But what does that mean? True medical aid in dying means hospice or palliative care; these medical resources aid the suffering patient to live without pain, to receive treatment, and to approach death when an illness is no longer curable.   Doctor prescribed suicide, deceptively lumped in with hospice and palliative care, is entirely different.  Assisted suicide eliminates suffering by eliminating the suffering patient.  

Barbara Wagner, suffering from lung cancer, received a letter from Medicaid of Oregon indicating that her expensive chemotherapy would not be covered, but that cheap suicide pills would be covered.  How’s that for so-called medical aid in dying? 

Perhaps the ultimate euphemism is the name used by the organization which is the primary advocacy group for doctor prescribed suicide: “Compassion and Choices.”  Their original name was “The Hemlock Society.” When it was recognized that naming an organization after a poison was not good public relations, the name “Compassion and Choices” was adopted.

Derek Humphry, the founder of the Hemlock Society, has argued that since the largest medical expenses are incurred in the final days and weeks of life, the hastened demise of people with only a short time left would free resources for others.  Such a utilitarian ethic converts the “right to die” (another euphemism) into a “duty to die.”  

The definition of euphemism that I like the best can be found at and reads as follows:   “A euphemism is a lullaby, a sedative, a velvet glove enfolding reality’s iron fist.  In a way, the word euphemism is itself a euphemism—so much kinder and gentler than cop-out.”


Mark J Rollo, MD


You can read the full-text of the proposed doctor-prescribed suicide bill in MA here. Bill numbers, for reference, are: S.1208 and H.1926

Please contact the Joint Committee on Public Health to ask them respectfully to reject this legislation in our state. You can find the Chair and Vice-Chair's contact information (Sen. Jo Comerford and Sen. Nick Collins) here

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