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Keywords:

  • bioethics;
  • death;
  • decision making;
  • end-of-life care;
  • ethics;
  • euthanasia;
  • nursing;
  • oncology;
  • physician-assisted suicide

Allowing and assisting patients to die: the perspectives of oncology practitioners

The moral distinctions between prolonging life, allowing for a dignified death, and assisting patients to die (hastening death) are troublesome to health practitioners. On 26 June 1997 the United States Supreme Court ruled that individuals do not have a constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide, but that individual states can legislate their preferences. Given this ruling it becomes important to ascertain the opinions of practitioners caring for persons who are at the end of their life. The data from interviews with 11 nurses and 10 physicians, who practice in the field of oncology, revealed issues associated with the care of dying persons. How health professionals integrated their perspectives of science/data with their perspectives on persons and personal goals affected the vigour with which they would institute treatment for the terminal patient. Further, ethical uncertainty dominated the decision making of all participants in this study when they were confronted with the question of assisting/hastening patients’ dying.