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Survey Finds Support for Physician-assisted Death in Ethnically Diverse California and Hawaii

06/20/2016

“Physician-assisted death was supported by a majority of California and Hawaii residents, regardless of their ethnicity,” reveals an online survey that was done by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine. The study is published in Journal of Palliative Medicine. As of June 9, the practice is legal in California, but is not legal in Hawaii. The survey asked people to identify their ethnicity, to indicate how important their faith is to them, and to “respond, true or false, to whether they believed it is acceptable to allow a physician to prescribe medication, at the request of a terminally-ill patient, in order to end that person’s life.”

The survey also found that older people were more supportive of physicians being allowed to prescribe medication for patients to end their own lives. Religious or spiritual people were less likely to be comfortable with the practice, though a majority of those asked still agreed that it should be an option. The authors of the study were surprised. “It is remarkable that in both states, even participants who were deeply spiritual (52 percent) were still in support of physician-assisted death. Both genders and all racial/ethnic groups in both states were equally in support of PAD.” VJ Periyakoil, the lead author of the study, concludes, “This study shows that in the ethnically diverse states of California and Hawaii, faith/religion/spirituality and age are major influencers of attitudes toward PAD and not ethnicity and gender.”

Periyakoil explains that doctors need to be both honest and culturally sensitive when they talk to patients about end-of-life care. “It takes a tremendous amount of courage on the patient’s part to ask these questions,” Periyakoil says. “How the doctor responds initially to the patient’s question is very important, and will set the tone for the rest of the interaction about this sensitive issue.”

The article also provides a link to Periyakoil’s teaching module that deals with physician-assisted death. That URL is https://palliative.stanford.edu/physician-assisted-death/

Sources: (Stanford Medicine News Center, 6/09, med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2016/06/stanford-study-finds-support-across-ethnicities-for-physician-as.html; Journal of Palliative Medicine, 6/9, http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jpm.2016.0160)