Poll Finds Docs Queasy at Prospect of Physician-Assisted Suicide

A social media poll found that US doctors who responded tended not to want states to pass laws on physician-assisted suicide.

The question of legalizing physician-assisted suicide continues to stir passionate debate. Social network Sermo, a physicians-only site that says it has more than 400,000 doctors as global participants, surveyed them from Sept. 16 to 21.

The question "should physician-assisted suicide be legal" drew about 1,000 responses, which a Sermo spokeswoman said is about average.

Physicians in the US who responded voted no by 52% (420 votes) to 38% (307 votes) with 88 respondents (11%) saying they were undecided. Though not a scientific poll, the comments it drew from respondents make for compelling reading. One US internist said "my own impression and that of others would expect that those who request the service are wracked with pain," which is not always the case. Studies in the Netherlands, where physician assisted suicide has been legal for some time, "have shown that the majority of patients who choose this option are actually suffering from profound mental illness," the doctor said in the post.

The internist also noted that 'I have dialed up a morphine drip in order to provide comfort for a dying patient" an act that is legal without a specific physician-assisted suicide law.

A radiologist asked "why should someone have to suffer needlessly as the price of being able to just go to sleep?" But that option should not have to be legislated, the doctor continued. Either "ending your life because you are ill is acceptable or it is not, and if it is acceptable then only the patient should decide when it is time to die, not some legislative committee drawing an arbitrary line."

A gastroenterologist said all states should pass assisted suicide laws. "Those of us who have moral objections to facilitating this inevitable process can always refer to physicians who are willing to help these patients."

Physicians from the UK--which is in the middle of a legislative debate on whether to legalize physician-assisted suicide--were only slightly more likely to say they were opposed to such a law.

Of those UK doctors who responded to the online question, 53% (43) said no, 36% (29) said yes, and 11% (9) said they couldn't decide.

California legislators have passed such a bill and it awaits Gov.Jerry Brown's signature.

Four states have such laws. Some physician groups including the American College of Physicians have strongly opposed the California measure, saying it would hurt patients' trust in their doctors and that the solution to lessening prolonged and futile care and suffering at the end of life is better access to palliative care.