Doctors Strongly Oppose Physician-Assisted Suicide

Although a small majority of Americans support physician-assisted suicide, two-thirds of physicians do not support the idea, according to a poll.

Although a small majority of Americans support physician-assisted suicide, two-thirds of physicians voted against it in a recent poll.

More than 2,000 votes were cast around the world, with Americans accounting for 72%, in a poll provided by the New England Medical Journal. The poll followed a NEJM feature in which experts discussed the topic and readers were presented with the case of a 72-year-old man with metastatic pancreatic cancer who was contemplating physician-assisted suicide.

The two sides presented in the article argued whether physicians should not assist in suicide since they have a duty to heal or whether physicians have a duty not only to heal, but also ease suffering.

Currently in the U.S., state laws in Oregon and Washington permit physician-assisted suicide through life-terminating drugs.

The results of the poll revealed that 67% of American physicians and 65% of overall readers thought physician-assisted suicide should not be permitted. Only 11 of the 74 countries represented had a majority of votes in favor of permitting physician-assisted suicide. And while 18 U.S. states had a majority of voters supporting the issue, Oregon and Washington were not actually among that group.

“Readers opposed to physician-assisted suicide questioned whether suicide was a civil right or a human right, expressed the belief that assisting suicide violated a physician’s oath to do no harm, and worried about a slippery slope in which physician-assisted suicide could eventually lead to euthanasia,” wrote James A. Colbert, MD, Joann Schulte, DO, MPH, and Jonathan N. Adler, MD. “Comments in favor of physician-assisted suicide highlighted the importance of honoring patients’ autonomy and noted that if physicians assist at birth, they should also have a role in assisting at death.”

The position of the world’s physicians differs from the opinion of overall Americans. A NPR-Truven Health Analytics poll from January revealed that 55% of Americans favor physician-assisted suicide. However, the poll did specify cases of the terminally ill where patients had less than six months to live.

The NPR-Truven poll showed a clear divide among age groups with those under the age of 35 more strongly in favor (58.7%) of the idea compared to those over the age of 65 (44.1%).

In cases where the patient is not terminally ill, but he or she still in severe pain or has a severe disability, support for physician-assisted suicide dropped sharply to only 29%.