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Rest easy in your beds

Numerous claims have been made about healthcare costs in the last year of life and the savings that could be made if only people would (or could) die easier and faster. A special article in the New England Journal of Medicine [ 1 ] helpfully addresses this issue by studying the 'potential cost savings from legalising physician-assisted suicide'.

Using information from the Dutch experience and Medicare and Medicaid costs in the USA the authors estimated the number of patients in the USA who might choose physician-assisted suicide and the cost savings that this would produce. The work is carefully done, and looks at how the figures they produce could be over- or under-estimates, and why.

The bottom line is that only small savings are likely to be realised were such a policy to be introduced. Savings, on a number of assumptions, amounted to no more than about 0.07% of total healthcare expenditure. The reasons for this, despite considerable hyperbole about the consumption of healthcare costs in the last month and year of life, include the fact that only 0.027% of people are likely to choose physician-assisted suicide in any one year. Put another way, that means that 99.97% of people would continue to receive usual health care at usual cost.


  1. EJ Emanuel, MP Battin. What are the potential cost savings from legalizing physician-assisted suicide? New England Journal of Medicine 1998 339: 167-172.

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