According to a new study, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (PAS) in the United States, Canada, and Europe are increasingly being legalized, but remain relatively uncommon. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania examined the legal status of both procedures and available data on attitudes and practices from the late 1940s to present day.

They found that public support for euthanasia and PAS in the United States had increased through the 1990s, but has since plateaued. More than 70 percent of cases of euthanasia and PAS worldwide involved patients with cancer. Typical patients are older, white, and well-educated. Motivations for requesting PAS include loss of autonomy and dignity, inability to enjoy life and regular activities, and other forms of mental distress. Pain is mostly not reported as the primary motivation.

Although the ethics and legality continue to be controversial, cases of these procedures remain relatively rare. Researchers did not find evidence that vulnerable patients have been receiving euthanasia or PAS at higher rates.

Click here to read the study published in JAMA, Journal of the American Medical Association.