Practical issues in physician-assisted suicide

Ann Intern Med. 1997 Jan 15;126(2):146-51. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-126-2-199701150-00009.


Support for the participation of physicians in the suicides of terminally ill patients is increasing, and the concrete effects on physician practice of a policy change with regard to physician-assisted suicide must be carefully considered. If physician-assisted suicide is legalized, physicians will need to gain expertise in understanding patients' motivations for requesting physician-assisted suicide, assessing mental status, diagnosing and treating depression, maximizing palliative interventions, and evaluating the external pressures on the patient. They will be asked to prognosticate not only about life expectancy but also about the onset of functional and cognitive decline. They will need access to reliable information about effective medications and dosages. The physician's position on physician-assisted suicide must be open to discussion between practitioner and patient. Protection of the patient's right to confidentiality must be balanced against the need of health care professionals and institutions to know about the patient's choice. Insurance coverage and managed care options may be affected. All of these issues need to be further explored through research, education, decision making by individual practitioners, and ongoing societal debate.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Disclosure
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Moral Obligations
  • Motivation
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Prognosis
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Suicide, Assisted*
  • Terminally Ill / psychology*