Deadly Business: MDs Report Experience With Assisted Suicide
He says that physicians must decide for themselves if, when, and how they
should help dying patients find relief from unrelenting suffering, and that
those who choose to take concrete steps must do everything in their power to
ensure as peaceful and untroubled a death as possible.
"You have to remember that there will probably be a relatively small
proportion of physicians whose conscience allows them to participate in
[physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia]," Nuland tells WebMD. "But
I think for those people there should be training, and I think the natural
trainers are anesthesiologists and clinical pharmacologists." He emphasizes
that training in physician-assisted suicide should be readily available but
totally voluntary, and it should not be part of the standard medical school
A medical ethicist who was not involved in the studies but supports
protection of private decisions between dying patients and their doctors tells
WebMD that our society is not ready to publicly support either
physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia.
"Doctors have a legal, moral, and ethical obligation to keep their
patients out of pain, and if that involves giving them lethal prescriptions and
risking that [patients] take them to kill themselves, that's perfectly fine.
Even the U.S. Supreme Court says that's fine," says George J. Annas, JD,
MPH, an Edward R. Utley professor, chairman of the health law department at
Boston University School of Public Health, and a professor in the Boston
University schools of Medicine and Law. "If you've got to kill your patient
to keep them out of pain -- as long as you don't intend to kill them but intend
to keep them out of pain -- that's the practice of medicine."
- In the state of Oregon, where physician-assisted suicide is legal, only one
in six requests for lethal prescriptions are granted, while only one in 10 such
requests actually results in suicide.
- Although some had feared that those who lack social support or access to
health care, including women, poor people, and minorities, would be more likely
to seek physician-assisted suicide, new research shows that this is not the
- In another study, researchers noted complications, such as a longer than
expected time to death or failure to induce coma. In 7% of assisted suicides
and 16% of euthanasia cases, patients woke up from their comas.