Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide and End-of-Life Care: Attitudes of Students, Residents and Attending Physicians

José Ramírez-Rivera, Juan Cruz, Francisco Jaume-Anselmi


Background: Attitudes in regard to end-of life issues are evolving in Western societies. We have sought to trace this evolution in the relatively homogeneous cultural setting of Puerto Rico. Methods: One hundred fifty-two medical students, 62 medical residents and 84 members of three medical faculties were asked whether in terminally ill patients they: 1) would support a request for euthanasia(E); 2) if legalized, would engage in, would oppose or would not be opposed to others engaging physician-assisted suicide(PAS); 3) would consider ethical to prescribe full doses of drugs needed to alleviate pain, even if they knew it would hasten death; 4) would agree to limit certain resources for the terminally ill. Gender and religious affiliation were also requested. Results: Twenty-eight percent of the students, 26% of the residents and 31% of the faculty supported E. Only 13% of the students, 18 % of the residents and 11% of the faculty would engage in PAS. Men were more willing than women to acquiesce to a request for E or PAS. Religious affiliation or its absence did not influence the support or opposition to E and PAS. If it would hasten death, 86 % of the residents, but only 65% of the faculty considered ethical to prescribe the dose of drugs needed to alleviate pain. More than 2/3 of the students, residents and faculty favored the limiting of certain resources for the terminally ill. Conclusions: In our cultural and medical environment, men are more willing than women to engage in E or PAS. The attitude towards E and PAS is not influenced by religious affiliation. If it hastens death, some still consider unethical to prescribe full doses of drugs needed to alleviate pain in the dying patient.

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