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N Engl J Med. 1997 Feb 6;336(6):417-21.

Physician-assisted suicide and patients with human immunodeficiency virus disease.

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San Francisco, CA 94110, USA.



Data are limited on the attitudes and practices of physicians regarding assisting the suicide of patients with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) disease.


Between November 1994 and January 1995, we used an anonymous, self-administered questionnaire to survey all 228 physicians in the Community Consortium, an association of providers of health care to patients infected with HIV in the San Francisco Bay area. The responses were compared with those in a 1990 survey of consortium physicians. Physician-assisted suicide was defined as "a physician providing a sufficient dose of narcotics to enable a patient to kill himself." Respondents were to "assume that the patient is a mentally competent, severely ill individual facing imminent death."


One hundred eighteen of the questionnaires were evaluated. Respondents reported a mean of 7.9 "direct" and 13.7 "indirect" requests from patients for assistance. In responses based on a case vignette, 48 percent of the physicians said they would be likely or very likely to grant the request of a patient with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) for assistance in a suicide, as compared with 28 percent of the respondents in 1990. Asked to estimate the number of times they had granted the request of a patient with AIDS for assistance in committing suicide, 53 percent said they had done so at least once (mean number of times, 4.2; median, 1.0; range, 0 to 100). In a multivariate analysis, factors positively associated with having, in fact, assisted a suicide were having had a higher number of patients with AIDS who had died, a higher number of indirect requests from patients for assistance, a stated gay, lesbian, or bisexual orientation on the part of the physician, and a higher "intention to assist" score (as calculated from the physician's responses to the case vignette).


Within a group of physicians caring for patients with HIV disease, the acceptance of assisted suicide increased between 1990 and 1995. A majority of respondents in 1995 said they had granted a request for assisted suicide from a patient with AIDS at least once.

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