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Physician-Assisted Suicide Program Rarely Used, Study Finds
Date:4/11/2013

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, April 10 (HealthDay News) -- Physician-assisted suicide laws can raise controversy and concern with their passage, but a new study from Washington state suggests many of those fears may be unfounded.

Washington's Death With Dignity Act hasn't lead to scores of terminally ill people seeking lethal prescriptions, the researchers report: Almost three years after the law was enacted, just 255 people had obtained a lethal prescription from a physician.

Of those 255 prescriptions, 40 were written for terminal cancer patients at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. And, in the new study, doctors there found that only 60 percent (24 people) of their patients chose to use their prescription to hasten their death.

"Most Americans say that they want to die at home with family members around, not in pain and with their mental faculties as in tact as possible. But, not everyone is achieving that kind of good death. For the rare number of people using the Death With Dignity program, we are reassured by the high numbers of people who use palliative or hospice care and who talk with their families about this decision," said study author Dr. Elizabeth Trice Loggers, medical director of palliative care at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

Results of the study appear in the April 11 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Physician-assisted death, also known as physician-assisted suicide, is currently legal in Oregon, Washington and Montana. Other states, among them Hawaii, Pennsylvania and Vermont, are considering legislation to allow physician-assisted deaths for people with terminal illnesses.

Washington's law was passed in November 2008, and enacted in March 2009. The Death With Dignity Act contains a number of safeguards. The illness must be terminal, and the patient must be competent. The request must be voluntary, the person making the request c
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