Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Counseling Students' Personal Values and Attitudes toward Euthanasia

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Counseling Students' Personal Values and Attitudes toward Euthanasia

Article excerpt

This analogue study examined client autonomy in euthanasia situations and its relationship to the clinical experience, religious values, and attitudes toward euthanasia of 83 mental health counseling students. Participants were much more supportive of client autonomy for a 77-yearold client than for a 2 5-year-old client seeking active euthanasia. No differences were found for passive euthanasia. Counseling student religiosity and clinical experience were significant predictors of support for client autonomy, with more religiosity and less clinical experience related to less support for the client's right to make this decision about ending life. These findings are discussed in light of professional ethics and the role of counselor values in working with clients.

The American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) Code of Ethics notes in the Commitment to Clients standard that "The primary responsibility of mental health counselors is to respect client dignity and promote client welfare" (AMCHA, 2010,1.A. l.a, p. 1). One important aspect of promoting client dignify and welfare is "to understand cultural and other ways that people differ from ourselves and to eliminate biases that might have an impact on the quality of our work" (Koocher & Keith-Spiegel, 2008, p. 7). This suggests, as Shallcross (2010) noted, that a primary directive for counselors is to place client needs ahead of their own values. This directive is manifested in respecting client autonomy (American Counseling Association [ACA], 2005) as clients make decisions about the quality, and perhaps length, of their life. Indeed, the AMCHA (2010) Code of Ethics specifically states that counselors need to ensure that "clients receive quality end-of-life care" (p. 4) and that they are "aware of their own personal, moral, and competency issues as it relates to end-of-life decisions" (p. 8). This study examined whether the religiosity values, attitudes about euthanasia, and clinical experience of mental health counseling students, and client age and sex would be related to support for a client contemplating euthanasia.

In November 1997, Oregon enacted the Death with Dignity Act (1994) that legalized physician-assisted suicide (PAS), a form of active euthanasia defined as the "intentional termination of life by another at the explicit request of the person who wishes to die" and "causing the death of a person through a direct action in response to a request from that person" (The Free Dictionary by Farlex, n.d.). In contrast, passive euthanasia is the withdrawal or withholding of some life-prolonging support (Wooddell & Kaplan, 1998). In 2006, the United States Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Oregon upheld the right of a physician to prescribe drugs in compliance with the Oregon state law. Other states, including Washington, California, Michigan, Maine, Hawaii, and Vermont, have unsuccessfully attempted similar law reform (Humphry, 2005). Oregon has closely monitored the number of assisted deaths since the act was passed. In 1998, 24 prescriptions were written for patients who requested lethal medication (Leman, 2007), in 1999, 33; in 2000, 39; in 2001, 44; in 2002, 58; and the number peaked in 2003 at 68. In 2004, 60 prescriptions were written, followed by 65 each in 2005 and 2006. Of the 65 patients who received lethal medications in 2006, 46 (70%) ingested and died from the medications. Since 1997, 292 terminally ill patients have sought euthanasia, compared to 85,755 other Oregon residents suffering from the same illnesses (Leman, 2007). Possession of a lethal prescription gives patients the autonomy to choose their own time to die (Leman, 2007).

Assessing public opinion about euthanasia, a 2003 Gallup poll revealed an increasing trend in favor of it (Carroll, 2006). For example, 69% of the 1,002 adult respondents were in favor of legally allowing a physician to aid in the painless death of a terminally ill patient who was living in severe pain. …

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