In 1997, the Oregon Death with Dignity Act was enacted, allowing physicians to prescribe lethal dosages of medication to competent, terminally ill patients who request them. To improve our understanding of physicians' reactions to requests for assisted suicide, we performed semistructured interviews of 35 Oregon physicians who had received requests from patients. Interviews were completed in 2000, and audiotaped, transcribed, and analyzed using qualitative techniques. Requests for assisted suicide had a powerful impact on physicians and their practices. Physicians often felt unprepared, and experienced apprehension and discomfort before and after receiving requests. Prominent sources of discomfort included concerns about adequately managing symptoms and suffering, not wanting to abandon patients, and incomplete understanding of patients' preferences, especially when physicians did not know patients well. Participation in assisted suicide required a large investment of time and was emotionally intense. Regardless of whether they prescribed or not, physicians did not express major regrets about their decisions. Requests often facilitated discussion of important issues, and many physicians felt that the process increased their confidence and assertiveness in discussing end-of-life issues with other patients. Physicians rarely sought support from colleagues; instead, they tended to discuss emotional aspects of their experiences with their spouses.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine