Values at stake at the end of life: Analyses of personal preferences among Swedish physicians

Clinical Ethics:147775092210773 (forthcoming)


Background Physician-assisted suicide is a controversial issue and has sometimes raised emotion-laden reactions. Against this backdrop, we have analyzed how Swedish physicians are reasoning about physician-assisted suicide if it were to be legalized. Methods and participants We conducted a cross-sectional study and analyzed 819 randomly selected physicians’ responses from general practitioners, geriatricians, internists, oncologists, psychiatrists, surgeons, and all palliativists. Apart from the main questions about their attitude toward physician-assisted suicide, we also asked what would happen with the respondents’ own trust in healthcare if physician-assisted suicide were legalized. Response options were that trust would decrease, not be influenced, or would increase. Results We identified a strong statistical association between on the one hand those whose own trust would increase and who were pro physician-assisted suicide, and on the other hand those who were against physician-assisted suicide and whose own trust would decrease [relative risk: 16.7 ]. Among those whose own trust would not be influenced, 60% were pro pysician-assisted suicide, 16% were against, and 24% were undecided. Of those whose trust would increase or not be influenced, a large majority supported autonomy-based arguments, whereas those whose trust would decrease supported non-maleficence-based arguments. Conclusion Analyzing the answers after having divided respondents into those whose own trust in healthcare would decrease or increase and not be influenced brings about interesting results such as how the three groups prioritize arguments for and against physician-assisted suicide. This way of analyzing the data seems to be a promising strategy when identifying value-impregnated factual claims.

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