The Popularity of Assisted Suicide?

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Questionable Popularity of Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide

A survey of U.S. oncologists suggests that support for euthanasia and assisted suicide in this profession has declined dramatically in recent years. The survey polled 3299 members of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in 1998. It found 22.5% support for physician-assisted suicide for a terminally ill patient with prostate cancer in unremitting pain, compared to 45.5% support in 1994. Euthanasia in this situation was supported by 6.5%, compared to 22.7% in 1994.

Surgical oncologists were more likely to support these practices; Catholics, those who view themselves as religious, and those who say they have sufficient time to talk to dying patients about end-of-life care were less likely to do so.

Those who oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide are also less willing to increase the dose of morphine for a patient who has unremitting pain despite previous pain relief efforts. "This reticence," they note, "probably reflects fear that increasing opioid dose increases the risks for respiratory depression and death and might be construed as a form of euthanasia. This view may be encouraged by proponents of euthanasia who have argued that there is no difference between increasing morphine for pain relief and euthanasia." The authors urge increased efforts "to educate physicians on the ethical and legal acceptability of increasing narcotics for pain control, even at the risk of respiratory depression and death" [E. Emanuel et al., "Attitudes and Practices of U.S. Oncologists regarding Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide," 133 Annals of Internal Medicine (3 October 2000) 527-532 at 530].

Numerous studies have established that the Americans most directly affected by the issue of physician-assisted suicide -- those who are frail, elderly and suffering from terminal illness -- are also more opposed to legalizing the practice than others are:

* A poll conducted for the Washington Post on March 22-26, 1996, found 50% support for legalizing physician-assisted suicide (Washington A18) Voters aged 35-44 supported legalization, 57% to 33%. But these figures reversed for voters aged 65 and older, who opposed legalization 54% to 38%. Majority opposition was also found among those with incomes under $15,000 (54%), and black Americans (70%).

* An August 1993 Roper poll funded by the Hemlock Society and other euthanasia supporters indicated that voters aged 18-29 supported "physician-aided suicide" 47% to 35%; voters aged 60 and older opposed it 45% to 35%.
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