More MS news articles for June 2001

Assisted Suicide: Views of Physicians And Physician Leaders 'Strikingly' Different

WESTPORT, CT (Reuters Health) Jun 12 - When it comes to physician-assisted suicide, there is a statistically significant difference in opinion between grassroots US physicians and physician leaders, survey results show.

Dr. Simon N. Whitney, of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, and colleagues surveyed a nationwide random sample of 930 physicians of all ages and specialties, as well as all 390 eligible members of the American Medical Association House of Delegates, on the legalization of physician-assisted suicide. In the end, the researchers analyzed 658 questionnaires from the random sample and 315 from the AMA House Delegates.

Of the random sample of physicians, 44.5% favored legalizing assisted suicide, 33.9% opposed legalization and 22% were unsure. By contrast, only 23.5% of AMA House Delegates favored legalization, 61.6% opposed it and 15% were unsure.

Why the difference? Dr. Whitney said he "suspects that many rank-and-file physicians see assisted suicide as another tool, one to be used rarely and reluctantly, but still a way to widen options for patients who are in great suffering. The leadership of the AMA is more concerned with the profession as a whole and worried that the legalization of assisted suicide might lead to abuses down the road."

"While neither view is right or wrong, it does put the AMA leadership in an awkward position when they characterize as unethical a practice that so many physicians support," Dr. Whitney told Reuters Health.

In the Journal of General Internal Medicine for May, Dr. Whitney and his colleagues say that they believe the "majority of both groups would prefer no law at all, with physician-assisted suicide being neither legal nor illegal."

Dr. Whitney said many of the questionnaires came back with "lots of written comments; the most common was 'It all depends.' " Many physicians shared poignant experiences, he said, such as, "My father is dying of lung cancer...I want him to have options." One physician, Dr. Whitney said, sent in a cartoon showing a group of Mafiosi meeting in a conference room; one is saying, "Assisted there's a growth area for us."

J Gen Intern Med 2001;16:290-296.

Copyright © 2001 Reuters Ltd.