HealthDay News — Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are increasingly being legalized, but their use remains rare, according to a special communication published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Ezekiel J. Emanuel, MD, PhD, from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and colleagues investigated the legal status of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide as well as data on attitudes and practices. Data, surveys, and studies from 1947 to 2016 were reviewed.
The researchers found that euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide can be legally practiced in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Colombia, and Canada. Physician-assisted suicide, but not euthanasia, is legal in 5 US states: Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, and California. Since the 1990s, public support for euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in the United States has plateaued (range, 47% to 69%). Increasing and strong public support for euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide has been reported in Western Europe, while support is decreasing in Central and Eastern Europe.
Fewer than 20% of physicians reported having received requests for euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide in the United States, and 5% or fewer have complied. In jurisdictions where euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide is legal, 0.3% to 4.6% of all deaths are reported as euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide; after legalization, the frequency of these deaths increased. More than 70% of cases of euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide involved patients with cancer.
“Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are increasingly being legalized, remain relatively rare, and primarily involve patients with cancer,” the authors write. “Existing data do not indicate widespread abuse of these practices.”
- Emaneul EJ, Onwuteaka-Philipsen BD, Urwin JW, et al. Attitudes and Practices of Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide in the United States, Canada, and Europe. 2016;316(1):79-90; doi: 10.1001/jama.2016.8499