Fear of Life, Fear of Death, and Fear of Causing Death: How Legislative Changes on Assisted Dying Are Doomed to Fail

Matti Hayry*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

150 Downloads (Pure)


Fear of life, fear of death, and fear of causing death form a combination that prevents reasoned changes in laws concerning end-of-life situations. This is shown systematically in this article using the methods of conceptual analysis. Prevalent fears are explicated and interpreted to see how their meanings differ depending on the chosen normative stance. When the meanings have been clarified, the impact of the fears on the motivations and justifications of potential legislative reforms are assessed. Two main normative stances are evoked. The first makes an appeal to individual self-determination, or autonomy, and the second to the traditional professional ethics of physicians. These views partly share qualifying elements, including incurability and irreversibility of the patient's medical condition, proximity of death, the unbearable nature of suffering, and issues of voluntariness further shade the matter. The conclusion is that although many motives to change end-of-life laws are admirable, they are partly contradictory, as are calls for autonomy and appeals to professional ethics; to a degree that good, principled legislative solutions remain improbable in the foreseeable future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-153
Number of pages9
JournalCambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • ethics
  • euthanasia
  • end of life
  • assisted suicide
  • fear
  • life
  • death
  • causing death
  • law
  • legislation
  • medical
  • healthcare
  • professional ethics

Cite this