Attitudes of family physicians in Washington State toward physician-assisted suicide

  • Abstract


    The topic of physician-assisted suicide is difficult and controversial. 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 paper utilizes data from a 1997 survey of family physicians (FPs) in Washington State to test two hypotheses: (1) older respondents will indicate greater opposition to physician-assisted suicide than their younger colleagues, and (2) male and rural physicians will have more negative attitudes toward physician-assisted suicide than their female and urban counterparts.


    A questionnaire administered to all active FPs obtained a 68% response rate, with 1074 respondents found to be eligible in this study. 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% indicated that they did not know. Fifty-eight percent of the study sample reported that they would not include physician-assisted suicide in their practices even if it were legal. Responses disaggregated by age-groups closely paralleled the group overall. There was a significant pattern of opposition on the part of rural male respondents compared to urban female respondents. Even among those reporting support for physician-assisted suicide, many expressed reluctance about including it in their practices.


    These findings highlight the systematic differences in FP attitudes toward one aspect of health care by gender, ruralurban practice location, and other factors.

  • Authors:

    Hart LG, Norris TE, Lishner DM

  • Journal/Publisher:

    J Rural Health

  • Edition:

    Sep 2003. 19(4):461-469

  • Link to Article

    Access the article here: J Rural Health

  • Citation:

    Hart LG, Norris TE, Lishner DM. Attitudes Of Family Physicians In Washington State Toward Physician-assisted Suicide. J Rural Health. Sep 2003 19(4):461-469

  • Related Studies:

    Family Physician Attitudes Toward Physician-Assisted Suicide