PHYSICIAN-ASSISTED SUICIDE: AIDS DOCS HELP PATIENTS DIE
"The number of physicians willing to help patients with AIDSThis is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.
kill themselves has nearly doubled over the last five years,"
according to a survey of AIDS specialists in the San Francisco
area. The study, published in today's NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF
MEDICINE (NEJM), found that "more than half the doctors surveyed
... said they have helped at least one terminally ill patient
obtain the narcotics needed to commit suicide, even though the
practice is illegal in California and every other state" (Tye,
BOSTON GLOBE, 2/6). Dr. Lee Slome, a San Francisco psychologist
and lead author of the study, said, "Physician-assisted suicide
is clearly a reality. The survey shows what they are actually
doing and suggests that this is an issue that must be dealt with
in the larger community" (Kreiger, SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER, 2/5).
DETAILS: The survey of all 228 members of the Community
Consortium, an association of health care providers for patients
with HIV, consisted of an anonymous, self-administered
questionnaire and was conducted between November 1994 and January
1995. The 118 valid responses were compared with those in a 1990
survey of consortium members (Slome et al., NEJM, 2/6 issue).
The survey found that 53% of physicians had assisted a patient in
committing suicide "by prescribing an excess of narcotics."
However, "only a handful of doctors had assisted multiple times."
LEGAL CONCERNS: According to the survey, "despite legal
constraints and ethical concerns ... the practice goes on, behind
closed doors." Since physicians are not at ease with discussing
suicide with their colleagues, "they usually act in private and
without consultation." Only three percent of those surveyed had
consulted with another physician before assisting a suicide.
Slome said, "Doctors said they think about it a lot. They think
about their role. ... But because of the social stigma, and
psychologic reverberations of serving this role, they can't talk
about it. In the absence of formal policies or procedures,
they're coming up with their own policy" (EXAMINER, 2/5).