Background: Oregon's Death with Dignity Act (ODDA), which legalized physician-assisted suicide (PAS) for terminally ill individuals, was enacted in 1997. Eighty-six percent of the 171 patients who have died by PAS were enrolled in hospice.
Objective: To survey hospice chaplains regarding their views on the ODDA and experiences working with patients who request PAS.
Design: Single, anonymous, mailed survey.
Subjects: All chaplains affiliated with one of Oregon's 50 hospices.
Results: Fifty of 77 hospice chaplains whom we identified (65%) returned the survey. Forty-two percent of respondents opposed the ODDA and 40% supported it. Over half of respondents had, in the previous 3 years, worked with a patient who had made an explicit request for assisted suicide. Conversation with patients around PAS focused on the role of faith and spirituality in this decision, reasons for wanting hastened death, and family concerns or reactions to PAS. Chaplains did not feel that they had a strong influence on the patient's decisions about PAS (mean score of 4 on a 0-10 scale), though three chaplains reported a patient who withdrew their request for PAS because of the chaplain's involvement. Chaplains reported provision of a nonjudgmental presence helped the relationship with the patient.
Conclusion: Oregon hospice chaplains are divided in their views on legalized PAS, but primarily see their role to deliver support to patients no matter what the patient's final decision regarding PAS.