Last updated on: 6/10/2008 | Author:

How Common Is It for Physicians to Participate in Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, despite the Legal Prohibition against Them?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

Margaret Battin, MD, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Adjunct Professor of Internal Medicine, and Timothy Quill, MD, Professor of Medicine, Psychiatry, and Medical Humanities at the University of Rochester, wrote in the introduction to their 2004 book Physician-Assisted Dying: The Case for Palliative Care & Patient Choice:

“Every study of physician practice in the United States… shows a measurable, fairly consistent incidence of physician-assisted suicide whether legal or not.”

2004 - Timothy E. Quill, MD Margaret P. Battin, PhD

Sissela Bok, PhD, Fellow at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, wrote in the 1998 book Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide: For and Against, that:

“Both sides can point, furthermore, to much recent survey evidence, to the effect that physicians, nurses, and other health professionals are already putting patients to death. Some do so surreptitiously; others do so in secret, only to acknowledge having done so once the acts are completed.”

1998 - Sissela Bok, PhD

Charles H. Baron, PhD, Professor of Law at Boston College Law School wrote in the 2004 book Physician-Assisted Dying: The Case for Palliative Care and Patient Choice that:

“Despite the illegality of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, many health care professionals admit to engaging in one or the other practice when they feel circumstances require it… Although the American Medical Association takes a public stand against physician-assisted suicide, it seems opposed only to its legalization, not to its practice. Despite a number of articles reporting fairly widespread practice of physician-assisted suicide–some of them published in the pages of its own journal–the association has not taken steps to find out who these physicians are in order to have them disciplined.”

2004 - Charles H. Baron, PhD

Diane Meier, MD, Director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care, et al. wrote in their 2003 article, “Characteristics of Patients Requesting and Receiving Physician-Assisted Death,” that appeared in the Archives of Internal Medicine:

“Of 1902 respondents [physicians involved in care of the seriously ill]…respondents reported 415 requests for aid in dying… Respondents reported honoring 32 requests for prescriptions (40% of 80 requests honored), 43 requests for injections (54%), and 5 nonspecific requests for either type of assistance (6%)…

The majority of acts of physician-assisted death in this study were defined by the survey’s physician respondents as lethal injections (54% of 80 honored requests) as opposed to lethal prescription (40% of honored requests)…both acts were illegal at the time of this survey.”

2003 - Diane Meier, MD

Diane Meier, MD, Director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care, et al., wrote in a 2003 article, “A National Survey of Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the United States,” that appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine:

“Eleven percent of the physicians [1,902 total] said that under current legal constraints, there were circumstances in which they would be willing to hasten a patient’s death by prescribing medication, and 7 percent said that they would provide a lethal injection… Since entering practice, 18.3 percent of the physicians…reported having received a request from a patient for assistance with suicide and 11.1 percent…had received a request for a lethal injection. Sixteen percent of the physicians receiving such requests…or 3.3 percent of the entire sample, reported that they had written at least one prescription to be used to hasten death, and 4.7 percent…said that they had administered at least one lethal injection.”

2003 - Diane Meier, MD

Ezekiel Emanuel, MD/PhD, Chair of the Department of Clinical Bioethics at the Warren G. Magnuson Clinical Center, National Institutes of Health, et al. wrote in their 1998 article, “The Practice of Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide in the United States: Adherence to Proposed Safeguards and Effects on Physicians,” that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association:

“A total of 355 oncologists…were interviewed on euthanasia and PAS [physician-assisted suicide]. On 2 screening questions, 56 oncologists (15.8%) reported participating in euthanasia or PAS.”

1998 - Ezekiel Emanuel, MD, PhD