Survey Finds Support for Medical Aid in Dying Growing Among Doctors

By Alyson Lynch, Marketing & Communications Coordinator
January 8, 2019

A new national Medscape survey released last month finds that 58 percent of 5,200 physicians across 29 specialties say that “‘physician-assisted suicide’ or ‘physician-assisted dying’ should be made legal for terminally ill patients.” Advocates use the term “medical aid in dying” to describe this practice, which allows terminally ill people to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can voluntarily decide to self-ingest to die in their sleep if suffering becomes intolerable. In contrast, “physician-assisted suicide” is a pejorative and technically inaccurate term that, along with “physician-assisted dying,” implies doctors do more than write a prescription, so it could have lowered the support level among the doctors surveyed. Despite this imperfect terminology, support among doctors is growing for medical aid in dying, up from 57 percent in 2016, 54 percent in 2014, and 46 percent in 2010.

Compassion & Choices CEO Kim Callinan told FierceHealthcare, “Physician support for medical aid in dying is growing and will continue to grow as more states authorize this end-of-life care option, because more patients are demanding it, and more national and state medical societies are dropping their opposition to it and adopting positions of support or engaged neutrality.” In 2018, the American Academy of Family Physicians, one of the largest medical organizations in the country, dropped its opposition to medical aid in dying and adopted a position of “engaged neutrality.” That term means the organization pledged to train physicians who live in states where medical aid in dying is authorized about how to practice it.

Callinan concluded: “We are in constant contact with physicians across the country through our Doc2Doc consultation and Doctors for Dignity outreach programs, so we know they increasingly understand that doing ‘no harm’ means supporting their patients’ values and priorities, including honoring their desire for a peaceful and compassionate death.”

Compassion & Choices
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VICTORY: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed the improved End-of-Life Options Act.