Doctors do err on cancer patients' survival times, so how can they say when the time is ripe for assisted suicide. A study in the July 1 issue of Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society, finds that doctors are often wrong in predicting how long terminally ill cancer patients will live. After studying the accuracy of doctors' predictions regarding 233 patients with end-of-life cancer, the researchers found most doctors had a tendency to overestimate survival time. But among patients who lived longer than six months, 40% had been expected to die sooner. The results are relevant to decisions to refer patients to hospice care -- and also to decisions for assisted suicide, which in Oregon can only be made by patients who are expected by their doctors to die in six months [A. Vigano et al., "The Relative Accuracy of the Clinical Estimation of the Duration of Life for Patients with End of Life Cancer," 86 Cancer 170-6 (July 1, 1999); Reuters, 6/30].
Numerous US studies have established that the Americans most directly affected by the issue of physician-assisted suicide -- those who are frail, elderly and suffering from terminal illness -- are also more opposed to legalizing the practice than others are:
* A poll conducted for the Washington Post on March 22-26, 1996, found 50% support for legalizing physician-assisted suicide (Washington A18) Voters aged 35-44 supported legalization, 57% to 33%. But these figures reversed for voters aged 65 and older, who opposed legalization 54% to 38%. Majority opposition was also found among those with incomes under $15,000 (54%), and black Americans (70%).
* An August 1993 Roper poll funded by the Hemlock Society and other euthanasia supporters indicated that voters aged 18-29 supported "physician-aided suicide" 47% to 35%; voters aged 60 and older opposed it 45% to 35%. Hemlock's newsletter commented that "the younger the person, the more likely he or she is to favor this legislation." The newsletter added that "this is somewhat at odds with how Hemlock views its membership," since it sees itself as defending the interests of elderly citizens. (Humphry; Poll 9) A study of cancer patients found that terminally ill patients experiencing significant pain are more opposed to physician-assisted suicide than other terminally ill patients or the general public. The patients who did tend to favor assisted suicide were those who had been diagnosed with clinical depression. The researchers commented: "Patients with pain do not seem to view euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide as the appropriate response to poor pain management. Indeed, oncology patients in pain may be suspicious that if euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide are legalized, the medical care system may not focus sufficient resources on provision of pain relief and palliative care" (Emanuel 1809)
* Researchers at Duke University recently surveyed hundreds of frail elderly...