A majority of physicians in a recent survey rejected the Bush administration's position that writing a lethal prescription for terminally ill patients-as allowed under Oregon's law permitting physician-assisted suicide-is not a "legitimate medical purpose."
Sixty-two percent of the 677 physicians responding to a national survey conducted in early October said they believe physicians should be allowed to dispense lethal prescriptions. This result closely matched a corresponding poll of the general public in which 64% of the 1,057 people surveyed said the same thing.
The e-mail and fax surveys were conducted by HCD Research, a Flemington, N.J.-based marketing and communications research company. The surveys were not commissioned by an outside organization.
HCD co-founder and managing partner Glenn Kessler said the company has no ideological slant. He also said the random survey was statistically significant, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Kenneth Stevens, M.D., a Portland, Ore.-based oncologist and president of Physicians for Compassionate Care, which opposes assisted suicide, dismissed the survey results. "With a lot of these surveys, you can get the results you want by how you craft the question," Stevens said. "One of the things I'm concerned about is that proponents of assisted suicide have been purporting the false premise that physicians can do a better job of taking care of a person's death than a person's life."
"It's always assumed that we have an agenda, but we just don't have one," Kessler said, adding that the results of this survey matched those of previous polls it has conducted on physician attitudes toward embryonic stem-cell research, the withdrawal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube and other ethical and moral questions.
"The physician results were absolutely predictable," he said. "Physicians are always-without putting any subjectivity into it-on the progressive side."
Kessler added that the poll was designed as a response to the Oct. 5 arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court pertaining to the Bush administration's appeal of a 2-1 ruling last May by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In that decision, judges said former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft overstepped his authority in 2001 when he said lethal prescriptions were not a legitimate medical purpose and threatened to take away the license to prescribe controlled substances from any physician who wrote a lethal prescription under the auspices of Oregon's Death with Dignity Act. In their decision, the judges stated that they were not ruling on the issue of physician-assisted suicide, but on the question of whether states-and not the federal government-were the primary regulators of medical practice.
According to the survey, physicians are torn over the question of who should be given the right to decide whether assisted suicide is a legitimate medical purpose; about 20% said it's a federal matter, 25% said states should decide and 54% said neither.
Kessler said the main question was asked this way: "Do you think physicians should be given the right to dispense prescriptions to patients to end their life?" He added that the term "suicide" was not included in the question because HCD "felt it was not a neutral word." [[[[
Few medical groups say HSAs aid patients: survey
Only about one-third of medical groups believe that health savings accounts benefit patients, but the majority believes the plans are good for insurance companies, according to a new national survey by the Medical Group Management Association.
The study, released Oct. 24 during the trade group's annual meeting in Nashville, found that only 34% of respondents believed that HSAs, which are becoming increasingly common as employers and insurers shift more healthcare costs to consumers, are good for patients. But 68% of respondents said the plans are good for employers and 59% said they are good for insurance companies.
Meanwhile, only about 64% of respondents said they are "beginning to understand" the rules regarding these high-deductible plans.
"It is essential that providers and patients understand their options concerning HSAs, and even more importantly, that they view them positively, if the implementation of these products is expected to go smoothly," said William Jessee, M.D., president and chief executive officer of the group, which conducted the survey of 1,209 medical group practices in collaboration with Visa USA.