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Practical Issues in Physician-Assisted Suicide

Margaret A. Drickamer, MD; Melinda A. Lee, MD; and Linda Ganzini, MD
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From the Veterans Affairs Connecticut Healthcare System, West Haven, Connecticut; Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut; and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland, Oregon. Disclaimer: The conclusions and opinions in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Requests for Reprints: Margaret A. Drickamer, MD, West Haven Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 111C, 950 Campbell Avenue, West Haven, CT 06516. Current Author Addresses: Dr. Drickamer: West Haven Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 111C, 950 Campbell Avenue, West Haven, CT 06516.

Copyright ©2004 by the American College of Physicians

Ann Intern Med. 1997;126(2):146-151. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-126-2-199701150-00009
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Support for the participation of physicians in the suicides of terminally ill patients is increasing, and the concrete effects on physician practice of a policy change with regard to physician-assisted suicide must be carefully considered. If physician-assisted suicide is legalized, physicians will need to gain expertise in understanding patients' motivations for requesting physician-assisted suicide, assessing mental status, diagnosing and treating depression, maximizing palliative interventions, and evaluating the external pressures on the patient. They will be asked to prognosticate not only about life expectancy but also about the onset of functional and cognitive decline. They will need access to reliable information about effective medications and dosages. The physician's position on physician-assisted suicide must be open to discussion between practitioner and patient. Protection of the patient's right to confidentiality must be balanced against the need of health care professionals and institutions to know about the patient's choice. Insurance coverage and managed care options may be affected. All of these issues need to be further explored through research, education, decision making by individual practitioners, and ongoing societal debate.





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