Dying with Dignity: Definition & Options

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  • 0:02 Dying with Dignity
  • 1:01 Suicide
  • 2:17 Euthanasia
  • 3:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

When a person is faced with a terminal illness, they sometimes want to control the timing and way that they die. In this lesson, we'll examine the dying with dignity movement, including physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Dying with Dignity

Sarah has had a full and happy life, but she has a terminal illness that is attacking her central nervous system. Her doctor has told her that she will die from this disease, but that it will be slow and painful. By the time the disease finally takes her, Sarah will not be in control of her body anymore. She won't be able to feed herself or wash herself or even go to the bathroom on her own.

To Sarah, the thought that she won't be able to take care of herself is worse than the thought of dying. She doesn't want to linger in pain and lose control of her body, so she is considering her options. Dying with dignity is a movement that promotes the ability to meet death on your own terms. Dying with dignity involves offering options to terminally ill patients, like Sarah, other than just waiting for the illness to kill them slowly. There are two major ways to die with dignity: suicide and euthanasia.


Sarah doesn't want to live in pain and slowly lose control of her body, so she talks to her doctor and tells him that she wants to end her life early. Assisted suicide, which is also called physician-assisted suicide, is when a doctor gives a person the means to commit suicide. For example, Sarah's doctor could give her a prescription for drugs that would end her life, but it's up to her to actually take the drugs and end her life.

Many people prefer the term assisted death to the term assisted suicide because they feel that the word 'suicide' has connotations that do not reflect the reality of a situation. They argue that suicide is when someone who is not terminally ill kills themselves, whereas assisted death occurs when a terminally ill patient seeks help in hastening death.

For example, if Sarah had a disease that caused her pain, but would not kill her, then by taking drugs to end her life, Sarah would be committing suicide. That is, she would be ending a life that otherwise would continue on. But because Sarah is terminally ill, she will be dying anyway, so some people feel that the correct terminology is assisted death.


Remember that Sarah's illness will eventually progress so that she can't take care of herself. What if she wants to end her life then? If she can't even feed herself or go to the bathroom, it would be impossible for her to take drugs required for her to kill herself.

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