Euthanasia Essay - Physician-Assisted Suicide

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Views on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

This essay explores the views of doctors, of the general public, and of the original Hippocratic Oath on the practices of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Considerable reference material is employed - from professional sources.

Regarding the views of physicians on euthanasia and assisted suicide, it is difficult to get a true picture of physicians views from articles in newspapers or from journal review articles. Since euthanasia and assisted suicide are new and a challenge to established values, a report about a single physician practicing assisted suicide is more likely to get published than a report that members of a large physicians' organization reaffirms traditional values. Physicians that practice euthanasia and assisted suicide have been more outspoken and vociferous since many consider themselves as pioneers. Whereas many physicians who continue to practice with traditional ethics, see no need to advertise this fact. Even if one reads consensus statements from medical ethics groups one may get a biased idea of the mainstream views of physicians. These statements are usually written by a small group of physicians, many of whom are active in ethics groups because they want to see change. Several articles have been published that poll doctors' views on euthanasia and assisted suicide, and these are likely to get closer to the real views of doctors. In a survey of doctors on management of the persistent vegetative state, 35% of doctors would never withdraw feeding or nutrition and 28% would always treat an acute infection or other life-threatening condition (1).

In a survey of 355 oncologists, the majority found euthanasia or assisted suicide unacceptable. However one in seven oncologists had actually carried out euthanasia or assisted suicide (2). 37% of physicians who look after AIDS patients would be unlikely to assist a patient with established AIDS to commit suicide but 48% said they would be likely to do so (3). 48% of 1355 physicians in Washington state agree that euthanasia is never ethically justified but 33% said they would be willing to perform euthanasia (4). 40% of 1119 Michigan physicians involved in the care of terminally ill patients were in favor of legalization of assisted suicide and 17% favored prohibition of assisted suicide. 22% of physicians would participate in either assisted suicide or euthanasia (5).

Regarding the views of the general public toward these two practices, two-thirds of oncology patients and of the public consider euthanasia and assisted suicide acceptable for cancer patients with unremitting pain (6).

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