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Oregon hospice Chaplains' experiences with patients requesting physician-assisted suicide

9 December 2005


Oregon's Death with Dignity Act (ODDA), which legalized physician-assisted suicide (PAS) for terminally-ill individuals, was enacted in 1997. Of the 171 patients who have died by PAS between 1997 and 2004,86% were enrolled in hospice. In this study, chaplains in all of Oregon's 50 hospices were surveyed regarding their views on the ODDA and their experiences working with patients who requested PAS. Fifty of 77 -hospice chaplains (65%) returned the survey. Of these respondents, 42% opposed the law and 40% supported it. In the previous three years, over half of the respondents had worked with a patient who had made an explicit request for assisted suicide. Conversations that chaplains had with patients about PAS focused on the role of faith and spirituality in this decision, reasons for wanting hastened death, and family concerns or reactions to PAS. Chaplains were comfortable discussing PAS with patients (mean score of 7.3 on a 0-10 scale). Discomfort resulted from not wanting to influence the patient's decision or from having conflict with the patient or family about the decision. Chaplains did not believe they had a strong influence on the patient's decisions about PAS (mean score of 4.0 on a 0-1 0 scale), although 3 chaplains reported a patient who withdrew his or her request for PAS because of the chaplain's involvement. Chaplains reported that provision of a nonjudgmental presence helped the relationship with the patient.


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