More than 60 doctors treating AIDS patients in the San Francisco area say they have prescribed lethal doses of medication to help terminally ill patients end their own lives, according to a survey published in yesterday's edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Experts say the survey of 118 physicians -- 53 percent of whom said they have helped at least one dying patient commit suicide -- is the nation's largest reported example of doctor-assisted suicide.
"At least in San Francisco, a surprisingly large number of doctors said they have done it -- particularly given the legal and medical repercussions," said Lee R. Slome, lead author of the survey.
The study found among those responding to the anonymous survey that doctors had prescribed a sufficient amount of medication with which patients could kill themselves in a median of four cases per physician.
Several doctors said they had assisted in more than 10 cases, and a few said they were involved in 50 to 100 cases.
"It's startling -- the number is very high," said Dr. Linda Emanuel of the American Medical Association, who opposes the practice.
"If there are doctors who are practicing this covertly, we need to address whether they should be disciplined."
Previously published studies of physician attitudes toward doctor-assisted suicide have reported that only 7 percent to 9 percent of doctors have complied with such requests from terminally ill patients.
Pub Date: 2/07/97