ASSISTED SUICIDE: Palliative Care Gets Greater Emphasis
As efforts to control pain become more popular, physicians are far less likely to cooperate with terminally ill patients requesting physician-assisted deaths, a new survey indicates. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, support for assisted suicide and euthanasia among oncologists has plummeted more than 50% since 1995. Moreover, a study published last week examining the first year of Oregon's Death With Dignity Act found that only 15 patients opted for physician-assisted death, dispelling predictions that the law would prompt "a rash of suicides."
Aaron Gilson, a researcher with the Pain and Policy Studies group at the University of Wisconsin, attributed the shift to groundbreaking guidelines issued by the Federation of State Medical Boards. The guidelines give "doctors greater leeway in using large doses of morphine" and shield them from legal fallout. The rules state that physicians "should not fear disciplinary action from the board or other state regulatory or enforcement agency for prescribing, dispensing or administrating controlled substances ... for a legitimate purpose." Noting that historically, "[c]hronic pain has been inadequately treated," Gilson added that he is working with a team to raise awareness about palliative care options (Schodolski, 2/21).