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July 28, 1997

Internal Medicine, Psychiatry, and Emergency Medicine Residents' Views of Assisted Death Practices

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Psychiatry (Drs L. Weiss Roberts, B. B. Roberts, Warner, Solomon, and McCarty) and Internal Medicine (Dr Hardee), University of New Mexico School of Medicine, and Veterans Affairs Medical Center (Dr Roberts), Albuquerque.

Arch Intern Med. 1997;157(14):1603-1609. doi:10.1001/archinte.1997.00440350111012

Background:  Although studies have revealed conflicting attitudes within the medical community regarding assisted death practices in the United States, the views of current resident physicians have not been described.

Objective:  To investigate the perspectives of residents from 3 medical specialty fields regarding the acceptability of assisted suicide and euthanasia practices as performed by 4 possible agents (the resident personally, a referral physician, physicians in general, or nonphysicians in general) in 6 patient scenarios.

Method:  An anonymous survey exploring responses to 6 patient vignettes was conducted with a convenience sample of all residents in the internal medicine, psychiatry, and emergency medicine training programs.

Results:  A total of 96 residents, 72% of those asked, participated in this study. Overall, residents expressed opposition or uncertainty regarding assisted suicide and euthanasia. The residents were disinclined to directly perform such practices themselves and did not support the conduct of assisted suicide practices by nonphysicians. Respondents were somewhat more accepting of other physicians' involvement in assisted death activities. Conflicting views were expressed by residents, with emergency medicine residents more likely to support assisted suicide practices in 4 of 6 patient vignettes than either internal medicine or psychiatry residents. Residents who reported being influenced by religious beliefs (21 respondents [22%]) did not support assisted death practices, whereas those influenced by personal philosophy (74 respondents [77%]) expressed less opposition.

Conclusions:  This study explores the uncertainty and differing views of residents from 3 fields about physicianassisted suicide practices. Study findings are considered within the larger literature on clinician attitudes toward assisted suicide and euthanasia.Arch Intern Med. 1997;157:1603-1609