Bioethics Blogs

What Drives Physician Support for PAS?

On January 8, I wrote about increasing physician support for physician-assisted suicide (PAS)—up from 46% of surveyed MDs in 2010 to 54% now.  Only 31% were flatly against it.  The remaining 15% give qualified support—“it depends.”

Now, Medscape sends a follow up (registration required), regarding the reasons their surveyed physicians gave for their answer.  The title of this report:  “Is religion why docs are against assisted suicide/dying?”

They led with the four most commonly cited reasons for opposition:

  1. Belief in God.  Two of several quotes:  “The time of death is up to God,” and “A physician is not a murderer to let.”  Medscape notes that some theistic physicians supported PAS in their survey, some citing a “larger context” requiring doctors to alleviate suffering.  As I fretted in my post last week, the way opposition to PAS is described here makes it sound like such opposition is simply an example of self-righteous moralizing.  Treating the patient with regard to the whole person is construed as incompatible with limiting the physician’s calling by proscribing PAS.  At least the “murderer to let” comment offers a hint at a broader stance, resting on the nature of that calling.
  2. Support for palliative care.  Citing Dr Diane Meier, president of the Center to Advance Palliative Care at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York:  we need more physicians properly trained in palliative care.  See also my citation of Dr. Gawande in my post from last week.
  3. Maybe the patient has treatable depression.  This is a major concern, although PAS advocates will claim that “sufficient safeguards” are being built into assisted-death laws.  Here, the respondents might have added, “maybe someone is giving a vulnerable patient a push….”
  4. No prognosis is certain.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.