Background: Although there have been many studies of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia in the United States, national data are lacking.
Methods: In 1996, we mailed questionnaires to a stratified probability sample of 3102 physicians in the 10 specialties in which doctors are most likely to receive requests from patients for assistance with suicide or euthanasia. We weighted the results to obtain nationally representative data.
Results: We received 1902 completed questionnaires (response rate, 61 percent). Eleven percent of the physicians said that under current legal constraints, there were circumstances in which they would be willing to hasten a patient's death by prescribing medication, and 7 percent said that they would provide a lethal injection; 36 percent and 24 percent, respectively, said that they would do so if it were legal. Since entering practice, 18.3 percent of the physicians (unweighted number, 320) reported having received a request from a patient for assistance with suicide and 11.1 percent (unweighted number, 196) had received a request for a lethal injection. Sixteen percent of the physicians receiving such requests (unweighted number, 42), or 3.3 percent of the entire sample, reported that they had written at least one prescription to be used to hasten death, and 4.7 percent (unweighted number, 59), said that they had administered at least one lethal injection.
Conclusions: A substantial proportion of physicians in the United States report that they receive requests for physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, and about 7 percent of those who responded to our survey have complied with such requests at least once.