Knowledge of the definition of euthanasia: study with doctors and caregivers of Alzheimer's disease patients

Rev Assoc Med Bras (1992). May-Jun 2009;55(3):263-7. doi: 10.1590/s0104-42302009000300016.


Background: Euthanasia is an increasingly debated subject among specialized professionals and also among lay people, even in countries such as Brazil where it is not authorized. It is questionable, however, if the concept of euthanasia is well known by these persons.

Objective: The goal of this study was to investigate knowledge about the definition of euthanasia by family caregivers of patients with dementia and by specialized physicians and also to investigate their personal opinion on this topic.

Methods: We prospectively interviewed 30 physicians from three different medical specialties and 40 family caregivers of patients with Alzheimer's disease using a structured questionnaire. Two clinical vignettes were also presented to the physicians in order to ascertain their personal opinion about euthanasia.

Results: Among the caregivers, 10 (25.0%) knew the correct definition of euthanasia. Regarding their personal view, nine (22.5%) were in favor, while 20 (50.0%) were against. The remaining 11 (27.5%) caregivers were unable to define their position. Among the physicians, 19 (63.3%) gave a coherent answer regarding the definition of euthanasia. When they were presented with the clinical vignettes, less than 50% of them were in favor of euthanasia.

Conclusion: The definition of euthanasia was unknown by most of the lay individuals and also by one third of the physicians. Although it is not officially approved in Brazil, a small proportion of family caregivers and also of specialized physicians would be in favor of the practice of euthanasia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alzheimer Disease*
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Caregivers / psychology
  • Caregivers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Euthanasia*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / psychology
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Socioeconomic Factors