Report finds growing acceptance of physician-assisted suicide

Despite fierce controversy, existing physician-assisted suicide or death with dignity programs in the United States appear to be well-accepted by patients and clinicians, according to a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In their report, lead author Elizabeth Trice Loggers, MD, PhD, medical director of palliative care at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, and colleagues explain that Washington's program "allows patients with cancer who wish to consider this option to do so within the context of their ongoing care."  Guidelines in Washington—one of three states to allow some form of physician-assisted suicide—also accommodate variation in clinicians' willingness to participate, noted Medscape Today.

For the most part, families anecdotally describe such deaths as peaceful, according to the authors, and frequently express gratitude after the prescription is received, regardless of whether it is ever filled or ingested. This indicates that patients feel "an important sense of control in an uncertain situation," the authors wrote.

While a recent bill to allow physician-assisted suicide, modeled after existing legislation in Oregon, failed in Massachusetts, Montana is now in the spotlight. Although Montana physicians who assist in a terminal patient's death have thus far been protected from criminal liability by patient consent, the state Senate is expected to approve a House-passed bill that would imprison doctors for up to 10 years if they provide aid to help terminally ill patients die.

In an interview with ABC News, Dr. Eric Kress, a 26-year family physician who has helped four Montana patients end their lives, said he had "no sleepless nights" after helping a patient die and was "proud that I had the courage to do the right thing for him."

Nonetheless, he told reporters that he would not continue to help terminally ill patients die if HB 505, Montanans Against Assisted Suicide, becomes law. "I am not a physician that wants to go to jail," he said.

To learn more:
- see the story from ABC News
- read the article from Medscape Today
- see the article from the New England Journal of Medicine