Doctor Survey on Physican-Assisted Suicide Flawed
From News & Views, 10-09-08
Seattle Times. September 22, 2008--Initiative 1000, which would allow
doctors to write lethal-dose prescriptions for terminally ill, competent
adult Washington residents, appears to be about patients. It would enact
the "Washington Death with Dignity Act," which is filled with language
about letting patients end their lives in a "humane and dignified"
manner. But really, the proposal is all about doctors. If they follow
the rules set forth in the initiative, it would protect them from
prosecution for "promoting a suicide attempt" — a felony under
state law — for helping those patients die.
Despite statements from the official state physicians organization,
doctors in Washington remain deeply divided on the issue, as they have
been for years. In July, the Washington State Medical Association
(WSMA), which represents nearly 7,000 doctors in Washington, said it
opposes the measure and that its "opposition was emphatically voted on"
at last year's meeting. In fact, WSMA members never voted on the
initiative. And a survey WSMA commissioned last year actually found
slightly more doctors approved of the provisions of I-1000 than opposed
them. In the survey, completed by Elway Research, 50 percent of doctors
responding said they would support a measure like I-1000 while 42
percent would oppose it. Female physicians were more likely to support
such a law.
Most larger surveys have shown that doctors here — and
elsewhere in the country — are profoundly conflicted on this
issue. In a national survey in 2005, 59 percent said doctors should be
"given the right to dispense prescriptions to patients to end their
life," while 41 percent disagreed. In a 1994 study published in the New
England Journal of Medicine, slightly more than half of Washington
doctors said they favored allowing doctors to prescribe lethal
medication, and even to administer it — known as euthanasia
— in some circumstances, although most would not be willing to
participate in either.
Issue Summary - Washington Initiative 1000
The core of this bill is a template of the Oregon bill, but it does
have a number of things added.
- Washington residency is not adequately defined. (All that is
currently needed is voter registration or a driver’s license. Only
students wanting in-state tuition have a waiting period.)
- There are many details on what can and cannot be done to physicians
who assist in a person's death in a facility that prohibits PAS. For
example, you can take away the doctor’s lease on facilities but
can’t cause them to lose privileges in the institution; an
employee can “privately contract” with a patient to dispense
the medicine outside the facility; etc.
- There is a whole list of laws and regulations that are not mandatory
to record, such as cases involving infants.
CMDA Washington State Task Force Chair Against Washington
Initiative 1000 Susan Rutherford, MD: "Proponents of Initiative
1000 have been misrepresenting token support for physician-assisted
suicide by doctors in Washington State. A scientific poll was never
conducted. A 2007 survey offered to Washington State Medical Association
members gave the topic as related to the business of health care
practice, and no measures were taken to ensure that members knew that
PAS would be addressed, or that the responses would be representative of
the membership, much less the opinions of all doctors in the state. Only
about 500 doctors responded.
"WSMA policy, which is firmly opposed to PAS and euthanasia, is
established by vote of the House of Delegates after vigorous debate open
to all interested members. For the past three years efforts to
neutralize or soften this opposition were soundly defeated and a year
ago it was even strengthened through a resolution offered by another
"As Christian physicians, we take seriously our professional duty to
protect the vulnerable. Our patients are hardly more fragile and weak
than when they approach death. How precious it is to learn of the worth
and dignity of each person made in the image of God, and to be the hands
of Jesus in showing true love and compassion. It is also a privilege to
use our God-given time, talent, and treasure in the realm of
professional societies and fighting battles such as this one against
physician-assisted suicide. I have learned that the time spent
volunteering within medical associations pays off when there is a sudden
need to stand up for the highest principles of medical ethics. I have
also learned the value and encouragement in having like-minded
colleagues. Let us stand together. Even with prospects of being a bit
tired and bloodied, we trust that our Lord will use it all for
Carol M. Ostrom. "Doctors Divided on Assisted Suicide." Seattle
Times. September 22, 2008.