Physician-Assisted Suicide: A Perspective from Advocates for People with Disability

Published in a special issue of Disability and Health Journal

New York, 23 December 2009 – Although public opinion in the United States on physician-assisted suicide is evenly divided, about half of states have either defeated bills to legalize assisted suicide or have passed laws explicitly banning it and only two states (Oregon and Washington) have legalized it. In this environment, A Disability Perspective on the Issue of Physician-Assisted Suicide, a special issue of Disability and Health Journal: The Official Journal of the American Association on Health and Disability, published by Elsevier, examines the issues related to assisted suicide and disability, the legal considerations and the Oregon and Washington experiences.

Journal editors Suzanne McDermott, PhD, USC School of Medicine, Columbia, SC, and Margaret A. Turk, MD, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY, have assembled six articles from disability advocates and scholars who oppose assisted suicide and thereby add important insights and background information to the debate.

Investigators from the Oregon Health and Science University examine the nature, form and impact of the Oregon Death With Dignity Act (DWD) on Oregonians with disabilities as reported in the peer-reviewed literature and data obtained from the Oregon Department of Human Services, Public Health Division (OPHD). The OPHD reports that in the 11 years since the DWD statute was enacted, 401 persons have died using DWD. The article also presents focus group data from people with disabilities regarding their opinions of the Death With Dignity Act and its impact.

Marilyn Golden and Tyler Zoanni, both disability rights advocates, present an overview of policy arguments against legalization of assisted suicide and provide the reader with a thorough coverage of the opposition view of assisted suicide. This is followed by an article by Carol Gill, PhD that provides an analysis of the media portrayal of the disability rights activists and their position on assisted suicide.

Diane Coleman, JD, founder and president of Not Dead Yet, one of the oldest and most constant opponents of assisted suicide, provides an overview of the fight against legalization of assisted suicide and the arguments and information used to oppose passage of laws legalizing assisted suicide, focusing on a recent case in the Montana Supreme Court.

Gloria Krahn, PhD, the Director of the Disability and Health Team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provides a chronicle of the Disability Section of the American Public Health Association’s debate on the issue of physician-assisted dying and her personal reflections on lessons learned.

The issue concludes with an article by Kirk Allison, PhD, MS, from the University of Minnesota. Dr. Allison considers the implications of assisted suicide from a population perspective, a concept central to the public health debate. He also raises some semantic issues that have presented themselves during this debate.

Writing in the Editorial, Professor Suzanne McDermott states, “Almost all people at the end of life can be included in the definition of ’disability.’ Thus, the practice of assisted suicide results in death for people with disabilities. People with disabilities have been recognized as a health disparity group (included in Healthy People 2010); they experience substantial discrimination in society, and yet they can live extremely high-quality lives.”

“I encourage you to read this important issue of Disability and Health Journal with an open mind…” continues Professor McDermott, “There will be many states in the next decade that introduce or consider the introduction of laws to legalize assisted suicide. The issues are complex and the evidence is not robust…We know there is another side to the debate, and this volume does not present the proponents’ arguments, which have been presented in other journals. We thought it necessary to focus on the unique perspective to the disability community.”

The articles in this special edition appear in Disability and Health Journal, The Official Journal of the American Association on Health and Disability, Volume 3, Issue 1 (January 2010) entitled A Disability Perspective on the Issue of Physician-Assisted Suicide, published by Elsevier. The entire issue is publicly available online via open access at

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Full text of the entire issue will be freely available online at To request specific articles or to schedule an interview with an editor or author, please contact Pat Hogan, Elsevier at 212-633-3928 or

Disability and Health Journal
The Official Journal of the American Association on Health and Disability
Volume 3, Issue 1 (January 2010)
A Disability Perspective on the Issue of Physician-Assisted Suicide

Table of Contents

Assisted Suicide: Why this is an important issue for the Disability and Health Journal
Suzanne McDermott

The Oregon Death with Dignity Act: Results of a Literature Review and Naturalistic Inquiry
Charles E. Drum, Glen White, Genia Taitano, and Willi Horner-Johnson

Killing Us Softly: The Dangers of Legalizing Assisted Suicide
Marilyn Golden and Tyler Zoanni

No, We Don't Think Our Doctors Are Out to Get Us: Responding to the Straw Man Distortions of Disability Rights Arguments Against Assisted Suicide
Carol J Gill

Assisted Suicide Laws Create Discriminatory Double Standard for Who Gets Suicide Prevention and Who Gets Suicide Assistance - Not Dead Yet Responds to Autonomy, Inc.
Diane Coleman

Reflections on the Debate on Disability and Aid in Dying
Gloria Krahn

Public Health, Populations, and Lethal Ingestion
Kirk C Allison

About Disability and Health Journal:
Disability and Health Journal: The Official Journal of the American Association on Health and Disability, is a scientific, scholarly and multidisciplinary journal for reporting original contributions that advance knowledge in disability and health. Such contributions include reports of empirical research on the characteristics of persons with disabilities, environments, health outcomes, and determinants of health; systematic reviews and tightly conceived theoretical interpretations of research literatures; and evaluative research on new interventions, technologies and programs. The focus will be public health, health promotion, health education, wellness and prevention, reducing the incidence of secondary conditions and medical conditions.

About The American Association on Health and Disability
The mission of the American Association on Health and Disability (AAHD) is to advance health promotion and wellness initiatives for people with disabilities at the federal, state and local level; reduce the incidence of secondary conditions in people with disabilities; and reduce health disparities between people with disabilities and the general population. AAHD achieves its mission through research, education, public awareness, and advocacy.

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps scientists and clinicians to find new answers, reshape human knowledge, and tackle the most urgent human crises. For 140 years, we have partnered with the research world to curate and verify scientific knowledge. Today, we’re committed to bringing that rigor to a new generation of platforms. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and professional education; including ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, 39,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray's Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers.

Media Contact:
Pat Hogan
+1 212 633 3928