Background: Little is known about how often physicians are formally accused of hastening patient deaths while practicing palliative care. Methods: We conducted an Internet-based survey on a random 50% sample of physician-members of a national hospice and palliative medicine society. Results: The final sample consisted of 663 physicians (response rate 53%). Over half of the respondents had had at least one experience in the last 5 years in which a patient's family, another physician, or another health care professional had characterized palliative treatments as being euthanasia, murder, or killing. One in four stated that at least one friend or family member, or a patient had similarly characterized their treatments. Respondents rated palliative sedation and stopping artificial hydration/nutrition as treatments most likely to be misconstrued as euthanasia. Overall, 25 physicians (4%) had been formally investigated for hastening a patient's death when that had not been their intention-13 while using opiates for symptom relief and six for using medications while discontinuing mechanical ventilation. In eight (32%) cases, another member of the health care team had initiated the charges. At the time of the survey, none had been found guilty, but they reported experiencing substantial anger and worry. Conclusions: Commonly used palliative care practices continue to be misconstrued as euthanasia or murder, despite this not being the intention of the treating physician. Further efforts are needed to explain to the health care community and the public that treatments often used to relieve patient suffering at the end of life are ethical and legal.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine