Cancer Sufferers with Severe Pain Reject Euthanasia: Report Finds They Seek Only Relief

Article excerpt

Most cancer patients in severe pain do not want euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, only relief from their pain, according to a new study by researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

"Patients experiencing pain are unlikely to approve of or desire euthanasia or PAS [physician-assisted suicide]. Patients with depression are more likely to request euthanasia or PAS," concludes the study, published in the British medical journal Lancet.

"When you have pain, you want to get rid of the pain, not your life," said Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, lead author of the study. Dr. Emanuel is an assistant professor of medicine at Dana-Farber and an assistant professor of medical ethics and oncology at the Harvard Medical School.

In a telephone interview, Dr. Emanuel said his research, funded by the American Cancer Society, was the "first scientific survey" of American cancer patients' views on active euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

"We were astounded by the results," he said, adding that the findings suggest society should not be "rushing headlong into legalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide."

Results in the study were based on interviews with 155 cancer patients, 193 members of the public and 355 oncologists, or cancer specialists.

Dr. Emanuel said patients who participated "all had serious cancers and were very sick," noting that "45 percent of our [patient] population thought they would not be cured."

About a third of the 155 cancer patients interviewed said they had experienced "significant pain within the past 24 hours," and nearly 15 percent said they were depressed and psychologically distressed, the study said.

The study showed that two-thirds of cancer patients and the public generally believe euthanasia and PAS should be available for terminally ill patients with severe, unremitting pain. …