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Editor's Correspondence
February 8, 2010

The Need for More Accurate Terminology in Discussing End-of-Life Options

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Director of Legal Affairs, Compassion & Choices, Denver, Colorado.

Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(3):307. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2009.541

The letter by Dr Workman1 in response to the article “Health Care Costs in the Last Week of Life: Associations With End-of-Life Conversations,”2 as well as the reply from that article's authors,3 clearly points out the need for the use of more accurate terminology when discussing end-of-life care and interventions. I suggest that the dialogue include accurate value-neutral terminology when discussing the choice of a mentally competent, terminally ill patient to consume medication prescribed for the purpose of bringing about a peaceful death. This medical practice is increasingly referred to as aid in dying; this term has been adopted by the American Public Health Association, the American Medical Women's Association, and the American Medical Student Association. Those opposed to the practice intentionally use inaccurate, pejorative terms such as “assisted suicide” despite the widespread recognition that the choice of a dying patient for a peaceful death and “suicide” are starkly and fundamentally different. We applaud the discussion of the need to be sensitive in the use of terminology in the end-of-life arena and hope it extends to this medical practice as well.

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