Background: Since the Oregon Death with Dignity Act was passed in November 1994, physicians in Oregon have faced the prospect of legalized physician-assisted suicide. We studied the attitudes and current practices of Oregon physicians in relation to assisted suicide.
Methods: From March to June 1995, we conducted a cross-sectional mailed survey of all physicians who might be eligible to prescribe a lethal dose of medication if the Oregon law is upheld. Physicians were asked to complete and return a confidential 56-item questionnaire.
Results: Of the 3944 eligible physicians who received the questionnaire, 2761 (70 percent) responded. Sixty percent of the respondents thought physician-assisted suicide should be legal in some cases, and nearly half (46 percent) might be willing to prescribe a lethal dose of medication if it were legal to do so; 31 percent of the respondents would be unwilling to do so on moral grounds. Twenty-one percent of the respondents have previously received requests for assisted suicide, and 7 percent have complied. Half the respondents were not sure what to prescribe for this purpose, and 83 percent cited financial pressure as a possible reason for such requests. The respondents also expressed concern about complications of suicide attempts and doubts about their ability to predict survival at six months accurately.
Conclusions: Oregon physicians have a more favorable attitude toward legalized physician-assisted suicide, are more willing to participate, and are currently participating in greater numbers than other surveyed groups of physicians in the United States. A sizable minority of physicians in Oregon objects to legalization and participation on moral grounds. Regardless of their attitudes, physicians had a number of reservations about the practical applications of the act.