Legalizing assisted suicide - Views of physicians in Oregon

Melinda A. Lee, Heidi D. Nelson, Virginia P. Tilden, Linda Ganzini, Terri A. Schmidt, Susan W. Tolle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

212 Scopus citations


Background. Since the Oregon Death with Dignity Act was passed in November 1994, physicians in Oregon have faced the prospect of legalized physician- assisted suicide. We studied the attitudes and current practices of Oregon physicians in relation to assisted suicide. Methods. From March to June 1995, we conducted a cross-sectional mailed survey of all physicians who might be eligible to prescribe a lethal dose of medication if the Oregon law is upheld. Physicians were asked to complete and return a confidential 56-item questionnaire. Results. Of the 3944 eligible physicians who received the questionnaire, 2761 (70 percent) responded. Sixty percent of the respondents thought physician-assisted suicide should be legal in some cases, and nearly half (46 percent) might be willing to prescribe a lethal dose of medication if it were legal to do so; 31 percent of the respondents would be unwilling to do so on moral grounds. Twenty-one percent of the respondents have previously received requests for assisted suicide, and 7 percent have complied. Half the respondents were not sure what to prescribe for this purpose, and 83 percent cited financial pressure as a possible reason for such requests. The respondents also expressed concern about complications of suicide attempts and doubts about their ability to predict survival at six months accurately. Conclusions. Oregon physicians have a more favorable attitude toward legalized physician-assisted suicide, are more willing to participate, and are currently participating in greater numbers than other surveyed groups of physicians in the United States. A sizable minority of physicians in Oregon objects to legalization and participation on moral grounds. Regardless of their attitudes, physicians had a number of reservations about the practical applications of the act.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)310-315
Number of pages6
JournalNew England Journal of Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - Feb 1 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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