Support for doctor-assisted deaths has remained steady in the US, and the practice did not take off, as some had feared, a new study finds.Where the practice is legal, physician-assisted death happens rarely and is mostly requested by white, well educated, wealthy cancer patients.
Research has found that most dying patients don’t seek assisted suicide. Below 0.5 % of deaths occur after doctor-assisted techniques. There are only five states where doctor-aided death is legal: Washington, Vermont, Montana, Oregon, and California.
The study team had a close look at older studies on assisted death and euthanasia, with data published since 1947 to 2016 in the US and Europe.
Physician-assisted death takes place when a doctor prescribes drugs that are lethal to patients who administer these to themselves. Euthanasia – currently illegal across the US occurs when a doctor gives the life-ending medication to the patient.
Twenty other states are debating whether or not to legalize doctor-aided death, among these: Arizona, Massachusetts, New York or Colorado. Some of the reasons for which patients in palliative care or hospice choose to end their life sooner are the fear of losing autonomy, no longer enjoying activities and other similar concerns. Pain is not usually a reason.
Public support for assisted death has varied from 47% of the US population in the 1990s to 69% supporting this choice now. About 20% of doctors say they were asked to assist patients in dying. Not more than 5% agreed, according to the study. Less than 1% write prescriptions for physician-assisted death on a regular, yearly basis.
Euthanasia and physician-assisted death are legal practices in Luxembourg, Canada, Colombia Belgium, the Netherlands or Switzerland. There is strong support for these practices in Western Europe, however in Central and Eastern parts of Europe, there is opposition.
Sometimes, complications occur. Some patients wake up from a coma or don’t die. People who oppose these practices say that assisted suicide deter doctors from better enhancing the end of life care for people with terminal illnesses.
Opponents of doctor-assisted deaths go on to say that only when all Americans have access to the high-quality end of life care, we should discuss physician-assisted death. They argue that palliative care reduces pain and emotional concerns, so there’s no need to worry about a tormented or stressful death.
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