Aim: Previous studies indicate that Norwegian physicians hold conservative attitudes towards ethically controversial end-of-life decisions. The present study was undertaken to explore whether in Norway euthanasia may be hidden under labels such as death after analgesic injections and withholding or withdrawing treatment.
Methods: A postal questionnaire containing 76 questions on ethical, collegial and professional autonomy issues was sent to a representative sample of 1616 active physicians in Norway in 2000.
Results: 83% responded. A total of 8.1% had terminated life-prolonging treatment based on the resource situation, while 53.5 and 40.1% respectively had stopped life prolonging treatment due to the wish of the patient and the wish of the patient's relatives. Although not significantly, anaesthesiologists more often reported to have stopped treatment due to resource considerations. One percent of the physicians reported to have shortened a patient's life intentionally (other than stopping futile treatment). All of these were men. Logistic regression showed no effect when gender, age and specialty were analysed simultaneously. 10.6%, and male more often than female physicians, had had experience of unintentional patient death in relation to pain treatment. Anaesthesiologists had had experiences of death following an analgesic injection no more than other specialists.
Conclusions: Only a small minority of Norwegian physicians has committed euthanasia. However, patient death has occurred following ethically questionable decisions such as withdrawal of treatment based on resource considerations and requests from the family.