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physician-assisted suicide

Definition of Physician-assisted Suicide

(noun) When a competent individual voluntarily decides to use a lethal medication administered by a medical doctor (MD) to painlessly end their own life (commit suicide).

Physician-assisted Suicide Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: phy·si·cian as·sist·ed su·i·cide

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

Phonetic Spelling

  • American English – /fuh-zIsh-uhn-uh-sIs-tuhd sOO-uh-sied/
  • British English – /fi-zIsh-uhn-uh-sIs-tid syOO-i-sied/

International Phonetic Alphabet

  • American English – /fəˈzɪʃən-əˈsɪstəd ˈsuəˌsaɪd/
  • British English – /fɪˈzɪʃən-əˈsɪstɪd ˈsjʊɪsaɪd/

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Usage Notes

  • Plural: physician-assisted suicides
  • Abbreviation: PAS
  • Physician-assisted suicide is sometimes called aid in dying, assisted suicide, or death with dignity. While these can relate to physician-assisted suicide they are not limited to assistance by a physician.
  • Physician-assisted suicide is an area of inquiry in thanatology, which is the study of death and dying.
  • A type of euthanasia.
  • Also called:
    • doctor-assisted suicide
    • physician-assisted death

Related Quotations

  • “Although suicide has been recorded in both written and oral records in the history of man from primitive times on, no word existed for the phenomenon until the seventeenth century. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word suicide was first used in 1651, but Alfred Alvarez reported in 1972 that it appeared in Sir Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici in 1642. The Oxford English Dictionary states that the word suicidium was actually derived by combining the Latin pronoun for ‘self’ and the verb ‘to kill.’ The word sounds deceptively Latin, but Henry Romilly Fedden, in his 1938 book Suicide, stated that the Romans described the act using Latin phrases, such as vim sibi inferre (to cause violence to oneself), sibi mortem consciscere (to procure one’s own death), and sua manu cadere (to fall by one’s own hand). Early English also used phrases, such as self-murder, self-destruction, and self-killer, all of which reflect the early association of the act with murder” (Farberow 2003:795–96).
  • Anomie, therefore, is a regular and specific factor in causing suicide in our modern societies. It is one of the sources feeding the annual totals. This is a new type that must be distinguished from the others. It differs from them in that it does not depend on the way in which individuals are attached to society, but on the way in which they are regulated by society. Egoistic suicide stems from the fact that men no longer see a reason for living; altruistic suicide comes from the fact that this reason appears to them to lie outside life itself; the third kind of suicide, whose existence we have just established, comes from the fact that their activity is unregulated and they suffer as a consequence. Because of its origin, we shall call this last type ‘anomic suicide'” (Durkheim [1897] 2004:81).
  • “Physician-assisted death did not begin with the 1993 government-sanctioned process in the Netherlands, nor with the first such acknowledged action by the pathologist Jack Kevorkian in the United States. The practice of ending the life of a suffering patient was so well established by the fifth century B.C.E. that opponents were motivated to mount a strenuous counterattack. The Hippocratic oath offered a landmark definition of the physician’s responsibilities. Included was the key statement: ‘I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel.’ In modern times, this controversial practice has become most commonly known as physician-assisted suicide. Some forensic experts and prosecuting attorneys, however, classify these deaths as homicides. The neutral term, physician-assisted death, leaves the question of whether the practice is actually homicide open for consideration” (Kastenbaum 2003:847).

Additional Information

Related Terms


Durkheim, Émile. [1897] 2004. “Suicide.” Pp. 65–83 in Readings from Emile Durkheim. Rev. ed., edited and translated by K. Thompson. New York: Routledge.

Farberow, Norman L. 2003. “Suicide Basics: History.” Pp. 795–800 in Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying, edited by R. Kastenbaum. New York: Macmillan Reference USA.

Kastenbaum, Robert. 2003. “Types of Suicide: Physician-assisted Suicide.” Pp. 847–51 in Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying, edited by R. Kastenbaum. New York: Macmillan Reference USA.

Works Consulted

Blackburn, Simon. 2008. The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Blakemore, Colin, and Sheila Jennett, eds. 2003. The Oxford Companion to the Body. New York: Oxford University Press.

Cane, Peter, and Joanne Conaghan, eds. 2008. The New Oxford Companion to Law. New York: Oxford University Press.

Griffiths, Heather, Nathan Keirns, Eric Strayer, Susan Cody-Rydzewski, Gail Scaramuzzo, Tommy Sadler, Sally Vyain, Jeff Bry, Faye Jones. 2016. Introduction to Sociology 2e. Houston, TX: OpenStax.

Honderich, Ted., ed. 2005. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Law, Jonathan, ed. 2015. A Dictionary of Law. 8th ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Martin, Elizabeth, ed. 2010. Concise Medical Dictionary. 8th ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Merriam-Webster. (N.d.) Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (http://www.merriam-webster.com/).

Oxford University Press. (N.d.) Oxford Dictionaries. (https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/).

Wikipedia contributors. (N.d.) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. (https://en.wikipedia.org/).

Cite the Definition of Physician-assisted Suicide

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “physician-assisted suicide.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved March 5, 2024 (https://sociologydictionary.org/physician-assisted-suicide/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

physician-assisted suicide. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/physician-assisted-suicide/

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “physician-assisted suicide.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed March 5, 2024. https://sociologydictionary.org/physician-assisted-suicide/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“physician-assisted suicide.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 5 Mar. 2024. <https://sociologydictionary.org/physician-assisted-suicide/>.