Views of United States Physicians and Members of the American Medical Association House of Delegates on Physician-assisted Suicide

Authors


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Whitney: 5615 Kirby Dr., Suite 610, Houston, TX 77005 (e-mail: swhitney@bcm.tmc.edu).

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

To ascertain the views of physicians and physician leaders toward the legalization of physician-assisted suicide.

DESIGN:

Confidential mail questionnaire.

PARTICIPANTS:

A nationwide random sample of physicians of all ages and specialties, and all members of the American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates as of April 1996.

MEASUREMENTS:

Demographic and practice characteristics and attitude toward legalization of physician-assisted suicide.

MAIN RESULTS:

Usable questionnaires were returned by 658 of 930 eligible physicians in the nationwide random sample (71%) and 315 of 390 eligible physicians in the House of Delegates (81%). In the nationwide random sample, 44.5% favored legalization (16.4% definitely and 28.1% probably), 33.9% opposed legalization (20.4% definitely and 13.5% probably), and 22% were unsure. Opposition to legalization was strongly associated with self-defined politically conservative beliefs, religious affiliation, and the importance of religion to the respondent (P < .001). Among members of the AMA House of Delegates, 23.5% favored legalization (7.3% definitely and 16.2% probably), 61.6% opposed legalization (43.5% definitely and 18.1% probably), and 15% were unsure; their views differed significantly from those of the nationwide random sample (P < .001). Given the choice, a majority of both groups would prefer no law at all, with physician-assisted suicide being neither legal nor illegal.

CONCLUSIONS:

Members of the AMA House of Delegates strongly oppose physician-assisted suicide, but rank-and-file physicians show no consensus either for or against its legalization. Although the debate is sometimes adversarial, most physicians in the United States are uncertain or endorse moderate views on assisted suicide.

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