Several of the world's foremost researchers in medical end-of-life matters have released a detailed and comprehensive review of the practice of assisted dying in lawful jurisdictions around the world. Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, it does not support slippery slope hypotheses.
Professors from universities in the USA, the Netherlands and Belgium studied data from government and statutory authority reports, primary scientific studies and other sources to examine how assisted dying has been practiced in different jurisdictions around the world where it is lawful in one form or another: self-administered medication (physician-assisted dying) or physician-administered medication (active voluntary euthanasia).1
Their primary conclusion is that:
"Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are increasingly being legalized, remain relatively rare, and primarily involve patients with cancer. Existing data do not indicate widespread abuse of these practices."
Key findings include:
"In no jurisdiction was there evidence that vulnerable patients have been receiving euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide at rates higher than those in the general population."
One aspect of the study is worthy of special mention: the small rate of assisted dying procedure complications. The available data suggests that complications may occur more often for self-administered medication than for physician administration:
This data is however of Dutch practice in the 1990s, before assisted dying was codified in statute—at a time when practice was poorly defined and a range of drugs, including opioids, were widely used. Now, practice is well-defined with almost universal use of barbiturates. The researchers expressly note that these complication rates may well have reduced.
Further, the authors refer to more recent data from Oregon and Washington which indicate very much lower complication rates (in those jurisdictions for self-administration only):
It is worth comparing the complication rates of assisted dying procedures with rates for other medical interventions to provide an appropriate context so that they may be realistically interpreted.
For example, a study of common over-the-counter analgesics for short-term pain management2 found that significant adverse effects occurred amongst 13.7% of ibuprofen users, 14.5% of paracetamol useres and 18.7% of aspirin users.
In another example, an anlaysis of primary research about surgical outcomes found that 14.4% had adverse events, almost half of which (47.5%) were moderate to fatal in severity.3
The study is a solid synthesis of research data and indicates that assisted dying is accessed sparingly and in accordance with the intentions of each legislature.
The adverse event rate for assisted dying appears to be substantially lower than the rate of adverse events in the use of common over-the-counter analgesics and in surgery.