Attitudes of Oregon psychiatrists toward physician-assisted suicide

Am J Psychiatry. 1996 Nov;153(11):1469-75. doi: 10.1176/ajp.153.11.1469.


Objective: After passage, in November 1994, of Oregon's ballot measure legalizing physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill persons, the authors surveyed psychiatrists in Oregon to determine their attitudes toward assisted suicide, the factors influencing these attitudes, and how they might both respond to and follow up a request by a primary care physician to evaluate a terminally ill patient desiring assisted suicide.

Method: An anonymous questionnaire was sent to all 418 Oregon psychiatrists.

Results: Seventy-seven percent of psychiatrists (N = 321) returned the questionnaire. Two-thirds endorsed the view that a physician should be permitted, under some circumstances, to write a prescription for a medication whose sole purpose would be to allow a patient to end his or her life. One-third endorsed the view that this practice should never be permitted. Over half favored Oregon's assisted suicide initiative becoming law. Psychiatrists' position on legalization of assisted suicide influenced the likelihood that they would agree to evaluate patients requesting assisted suicide and how they would follow up an evaluation of a competent patient desiring assisted suicide. Only 6% of psychiatrists were very confident that in a single evaluation they could adequately assess whether a psychiatric disorder was impairing the judgment of a patient requesting assisted suicide.

Conclusions: Psychiatrists in Oregon are divided in their belief about the ethical permissibility of assisted suicide, and their moral beliefs influence how they might evaluate a patient requesting assisted suicide, should this practice be legalized. Psychiatrists' confidence in their ability to determine whether a psychiatric disorder such as depression was impairing the judgment of a patient requesting assisted suicide was low.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Euthanasia
  • Family Practice
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Competency
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Oregon
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Psychiatry*
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Social Values
  • Suicide, Assisted* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Terminally Ill / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Trust
  • Vulnerable Populations
  • Wedge Argument
  • Withholding Treatment