Semantics of end of life choices

Do words matter? Evaluate your initial reaction to the following phrases:

Assisted Suicide
Assisted Death
Death with Dignity
End of Life Option
Physician Assisted Death
Medical Aid in Dying
Physician Assisted Suicide

All of these descriptive phrases result in the same end point – death. The act does not differ with alternative semantics. The bare, raw truth of two physicians screening a terminally ill patient, and after a 14-day waiting period prescribing a lethal combination of drugs self-administered by the patient to end their life does not change with softer phrasing.

The end of life option movement faces many political, societal and religious obstacles, so a description of the choice has evolved to a currently used label, physician assisted death (PAD). The act does not guarantee “death with dignity”. In my brother’s case, there were adverse complications including vomiting bile, severe upper GI burning, intestinal obstruction and many hours rather than minutes passing before his death. The unexpected adverse effects he experienced would not have changed his choice. He was terminally ill with metastatic cancer and was at a point where physical deterioration, end stage cancer incapacitating fatigue and severe pain robbed him of even the smallest sliver of the life he previously enjoyed.

The personal choice to control one’s exit in these circumstances is a human right irrespective of our desire to euphemistically name the act.