The interest in “Death With Dignity” or physician-assisted suicide is growing; however, the terms may confuse some people thanks to the heavy connotations associated with these words. Death is a difficult and taboo subject to talk about, and there are communities of people who are trying to provide more sensitive guidance to help people considering issues related to physician-assisted suicide.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Nonfiction Books About Death With Dignity or Assisted Suicide
- Fiction Books About Death With Dignity or Assisted Suicide
Some in the death with dignity community advocate for other less value-laden names than “assisted suicide,” as many cultures and individuals can have an ethical opposition to suicide. However, there are other terms for assisted suicide such as:
- Death with dignity
- Assisted dying
- Assisted death
- Physician-assisted death
- Physician-assisted dying
- Aid in dying
- Physicians aid in dying
- Medical aid in dying
Death with dignity can be defined as the following: a mentally competent adult with a terminal illness and a confirmed prognosis of having six or fewer months to live having the option to receive a prescription medication to hasten their death. In this sense, it is more about their desire to end their suffering from a terminal condition. Eight states and Washington D.C. allow for death with dignity or, as is sometimes called, the right to die.
If you live in one of the states that allow death with dignity, you may be interested in reading some books on the subject. We have some suggestions on the most popular and best books on death with dignity or physician-assisted dying. You may also be interested in some of our recommendations on books about death.
Nonfiction Books About Death With Dignity or Assisted Suicide
Nonfiction books about death with dignity can be both memoirs or exploratory books that tell a story about someone’s personal journey. For those looking for books about the subject, these books can help explain what happens during physician-assisted death. The books recommended below are not the only ones available but have also received generally good reviews.
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1. Knocking on Heaven’s Door by Katy Butler
Knocking on Heaven’s Door is written by award-winning writer Katy Butler about her personal journey with her aging parents. Butler writes about coping with the decline of both parents and the medical profession’s part in keeping people alive by “prolonging death.”
Butler explores the movement towards “care over cure” as the most humane way to help people at the end of their life who are suffering.
2. Preparing for a Better End: Expert Lessons on Death and Dying for You and Your Loved Ones by Dan Morhaim with Shelley Morhaim
Preparing for a Better End is unique in that one of the authors, Dan Morhaim is also an emergency room physician. This comprehensive book discusses how to prepare for death, with advice regarding advance directives, living wills, in addition to how initiatives on assisted dying differ by state.
This book also helps the reader determine the best options for end-of-life care and how to make these difficult decisions as a family.
3. Choosing to Die: A Personal Story by Phyllis Shacter
Choosing to Die is included in our list of books, as it covers a personal story of Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking, or VSED. The choice to engage in VSED is legal in all 50 states. Phyllis Shacter writes about her husband, who had late-stage Alzheimer’s, and his decision to stop eating and drinking.
Phyllis writes in great detail what happened during the nine days it took her husband to die and the emotional impact it had on her.
4. The Inevitable: Dispatches on the Right to Die by Katie Engelhart
The Inevitable is a book written by veteran journalist Katie Engelhart where she interviews physicians at the center of the debate on the right to die. In this book, she also shares stories about people who say they wanted to die due to unbearable suffering.
Engelhart points out that even in states where physician-assisted death is legal, some people are left behind, and she explores the underground community that attempts to help them.
5. Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying by Derek Humphry and Clive Chafer
Final Exit is an older, but informative and pragmatic manual on the legal documents required on how to die. While the title itself can sound bleak, the book also focuses on providing guidance for family members who are managing this conversation with a dying loved one. This controversial book helped to ignite the conversation on the right to die and was on the New York Times bestseller list.
6. On My Own by Diane Rehm
You may know Diane Rehm as the NPR radio host of The Diane Rehm Show for 37 years. On My Own is the personal story of Diane’s husband, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease and begged to die. He eventually took matters into his own hands and stopped eating or drinking, which led Diane to become an outspoken advocate for Death With Dignity.
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7. When My Time Comes: Conversations About Whether Those Who Are Dying Should Have the Right to Determine When Life Should End by Diane Rehm and John Grisham (Forward)
When My Time Comes is another book by Diane Rehm where she interviews ill patients, families, physicians, religious leaders, and ethicists who support and oppose the right to die movement.
When My Time Comes can be considered a journalist’s work in exploring a controversial topic. It also has the added benefit of being written by a woman who encountered the ups and downs of this particular subject with her dying husband.
8. Denial of the Soul by M. Scott Peck
Denial of the Soul is an older book written by the author of The Road Less Traveled. In this book, Peck encourages people to discuss the spiritual ramifications of physician-assisted suicide.
While he states his opinion as not being totally against assisted suicide in cases of severe pain, he believes that hospice care may be the better option. As hospice care focuses on the concept of palliative medical care and use of pain medication, Peck believes that this practice should make physician-assisted suicide unnecessary.
Fiction Books About Death With Dignity or Assisted Suicide
Fiction books about death with dignity can vary in their approach to the subject and the will to live or die. Most people think of the dying with dignity movement as affecting older people or terminally ill individuals. However, these books show us that other circumstances can lead people to question whether they want to live.
9. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Me Before You is the story of a woman hired to take care of a man, Will, recently paralyzed following a motorcycle accident. Will is committed to going through euthanasia since he no longer wishes to live.
10. Mercy by Jodi Picoult
Mercy is a well-known book about two cousins, one a police chief and the other who helps his terminally ill wife end her life. Written by the famous novelist Jodi Picoult, weaves a tale that involves the difficult situation the police chief faces with a legal duty to arrest his cousin for the murder of his wife.
11. Fatal Intent by Tammy Euliano
Fatal Intent is a crime novel that pits a doctor against a medical establishment that blames the suspicious deaths of several elderly patients on the fact that they are “old.” Add to that the fact that her husband is in a prolonged coma, and she must decide whether to withdraw the sustenance that keeps him alive.
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12. Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman
Stuck in Neutral is a book about a young man named Shawn with cerebral palsy who has no control over his body, speech, or even eye movement. Shawn feels that his father wants to kill him since he constantly talks about euthanasia. Shawn wants people to know that he is alive inside and has intelligence and a will to live, but he can’t communicate it.
13. Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult
Lone Wolf is a story of the relationship between medical science and moral and ethical choices. Written by Jodi Picoult, she asks the questions: If we can keep people who have a terminal condition alive artificially, should they also be allowed to die artificially? And is the potential to save a life with organ donation justify hastening death? And which family member decides a father’s fate?
14. The Betrayal of Trust by Susan Hill
The Betrayal of Trust is a murder mystery novel that explores the issues surrounding dying with dignity. With this in the backdrop, detective Simon Serrailler attempts to solve the murder of a young girl whose body has been found 16 years later following a freak flood.
15. When I Killed My Father: An Assisted-Suicide Family Thriller by John Byrne Barry
When I Killed My Father is a story about a psychologist whose father suffers from cancer and dementia and asks his son to end his life. His son agrees, but then at his father’s memorial, his sister accuses him of murder. This novel explores issues relating to mercy killing, dementia, and family conflict around assisted suicide.
Popular Books on Death With Dignity and Assisted Suicide
Grappling with the ethical, emotional, and legal issues around death with dignity can be traumatic and overwhelming. Books that explain the complexities of the law and the decision-making process can help you feel less alone when talking with your loved one and family. Both fiction and nonfiction books on this subject can be worth reading, so you are better informed and able to find peace with your decision.