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Attitudes and experiences of Oregon hospice nurses and social workers regarding assisted suicide.

Miller LL, Harvath TA, Ganzini L, Goy ER, Delorit MA, Jackson A. Attitudes and experiences of Oregon hospice nurses and social workers regarding assisted suicide. Palliative Medicine. 2004 Dec 1; 18(8):685-91.

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BACKGROUND: When the Oregon Death with Dignity Act (ODDA) legalizing physician-assisted suicide was enacted into law in 1997, Oregon hospice clinicians were uncertain how involved they would be with patients who wanted this option. However, 86% of the 171 persons in Oregon who have died by lethal prescription were enrolled in hospice programmes. METHOD: A mailed questionnaire was sent to all hospice nurses and social workers in Oregon in 2001 (n = 573) to assess their attitudes about legalized assisted suicide and interactions with patients concerning this issue. Responses from 306 nurses and 85 social workers are included in this report. FINDINGS: Almost two-thirds of respondents reported that at least one patient had discussed assisted suicide as a potential option in the past year. Social workers were generally more supportive of both the ODDA and of patients choosing assisted suicide compared to nurses. Twenty-two per cent of all respondents were not comfortable discussing assisted suicide with patients. Ninety-five per cent of both groups, however, favoured hospice policies that would allow a patient to choose assisted suicide while enrolled in hospice and allow hospice clinicians to continue to provide care. INTERPRETATIONS: Nurses and social workers in hospices and other settings can expect to encounter patient questions about physician-assisted suicide, whether legalized or not, and must be prepared to have these discussions. Most hospice professionals in Oregon do not believe that assisted suicide and hospice enrollment are mutually exclusive alternatives.

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