Family Physician Attitudes Toward Physician-Assisted Suicide


With recent laws allowing physicians to assist in a terminally ill patient’s suicide under certain circumstances, the debate concerning the appropriate and ethical role for physicians has intensified. This study used data from a 1997 survey of family physicians (FPs) and general practitioners (GPs) in Washington State to determine factors associated with attitudes toward physician-assisted suicide. A questionnaire was mailed to all active FPs/GPs in Washington State. A ZIP code system based on generalist Health Service Areas was used to designate those practicing in rural versus urban areas. One-fourth of the respondents overall indicated support for physician-assisted suicide. When asked whether this practice should be legalized, 39% said yes, 44% said no, and 18% did not know. Over half would not include physician-assisted suicide in their practices, even if it were legal. Attitudes about physician-assisted suicide varied significantly between urban females and rural males, with the former being more supportive of assisted suicide than the latter. Many respondents, especially females, were uncertain of their positions concerning the legalization of and their willingness to assist suicides. Substantial differences in opinion toward physician-assisted suicide existed between physicians based on gender and rural-urban practice location. There was a significant pattern of opposition on the part of rural male respondents compared to urban female respondents.