Uncertainty and opposition of medical students toward assisted death practices JOURNAL OF PAIN AND SYMPTOM MANAGEMENT Warner, T. D., Roberts, L. W., Smithpeter, M., Rogers, M., Roberts, B., McCarty, T., Franchini, G., Geppert, C., Obenshain, S. S. 2001; 22 (2): 657-667


To explore medical students' views of assisted death practices in patient cases that describe different degrees and types of physical and mental suffering, an anonymous survey was administered to all students at one medical school. Respondents were asked about the acceptability of assisted death activities in five patient vignettes and withdrawal of life support in a sixth vignette. In the vignettes, actions were performed by four possible agents: the medical student personally; a referral physician; physicians in general; or non-physicians. Of 306 medical students, 166 (54%) participated. Respondents expressed opposition or uncertainty about assisted death practices in the five patient cases that illustrated severe forms of suffering which were secondary to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, treatment-resistant depressive and somatoform disorders, antisocial and sexually violent behavior, or AIDS. Students supported the withdrawal of life support in the sixth vignette depicting exceptional futility secondary to AIDS. Students were especially opposed to their own involvement and to the participation of non-physicians in assisted death activities. Differences in views related to sex, religious beliefs, and personal philosophy were found. Medical students do not embrace assisted death practices, although they exhibit tolerance regarding the choices of medical colleagues. How these attributes of medical students will translate into future behaviors toward patients and peers remains uncertain. Medical educators must strive to understand the perspectives of physicians-in-training. Expanded, empirically informed education that is attuned to the attitudes of medical students may be helpful in fulfilling the responsibility of imparting optimal clinical care skills.

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View details for PubMedID 11495712