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N Engl J Med. 1994 Jul 14;331(2):89-94.

Attitudes toward assisted suicide and euthanasia among physicians in Washington State.

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Section of General Internal Medicine, Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center, MN 55417.



Despite considerable public interest in legalizing physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, little is known about physicians' attitudes toward these practices.


We sent questionnaires to 1355 randomly selected physicians in the state of Washington, including all hematologists and oncologists and a disproportionately high number of internists, family practitioners, psychiatrists, and general surgeons. To avoid ambiguity in our survey, instead of "physician-assisted suicide," we used the phrase "prescription of medication [e.g., narcotics or barbiturates] or the counseling of an ill patient so he or she may use an overdose to end his or her own life." Instead of "euthanasia," we used the phrase "deliberate administration of an overdose of medication to an ill patient at his or her request with the primary intent to end his or her life."


Of the 1355 eligible physicians who received our questionnaire, 938 (69 percent) responded. Forty-eight percent of the respondents agreed with the statement that euthanasia is never ethically justified, and 42 percent disagreed. Fifty-four percent thought euthanasia should be legal in some situations, but only 33 percent stated that they would be willing to perform euthanasia. Thirty-nine percent of respondents agreed with the statement that physician-assisted suicide is never ethically justified, and 50 percent disagreed. Fifty-three percent thought assisted suicide should be legal in some situations, but only 40 percent stated that they would be willing to assist a patient in committing suicide. Of the groups surveyed, hematologists and oncologists were most likely to oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide, and psychiatrists were most likely to support these practices.


The attitudes toward physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia of physicians in Washington State are polarized. A slight majority favors legalizing physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia in at least some situations, but most would be unwilling to participate in these practices themselves.

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