Medical assistance in dying law: a qualitative study of French cancer physicians

Medical assistance in dying law: a qualitative study of French cancer physicians

Mathilde Chastenet, Olivier Renard, Pierre-Antoine Laurain, Myriam Bonnot, Gisèle Chvetzoff

BMJ Support Palliat Care. 2023 Aug 4;spcare-2023-004238. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: The legal landscape surrounding end-of-life care in France is subject to frequent changes. A proposed law to legalise euthanasia in April 2021 has raised questions about the role of physicians. If enacted, oncologists would likely be among the first professionals impacted, as data from countries with legalised euthanasia reveal that patients with cancer constitute the majority of those seeking this option. Currently, little is known about the attitudes of French oncologists towards euthanasia. Therefore, the aim of this study was to explore the position of cancer physicians on euthanasia and their experiences in dealing with patients who request it.

Methods: We conducted individual interviews with 24 cancer specialists (oncologists, radiotherapists and haematologists) at the Centre Léon Bérard in Lyon between August and October 2021. After full transcription, data were analysed thematically and for content. Data triangulation was used to establish the truthworthiness of the findings by two external researchers.

Results: Most cancer specialists in our study were opposed to legalising euthanasia, citing concerns about the societal, medical and ethical implications of the practice. They refused physician-assisted suicide based on their ethical duty to preserve life, avoid harm and uphold the Hippocratic Oath. Patient requests for euthanasia were rare. Surprisingly, over a quarter of the physicians interviewed did not rule out receiving active assistance in dying themselves in cases of unbearable or hopeless situations.

Conclusions: This study highlights the complex and diverse attitudes of cancer physicians towards euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, reflecting the challenges of integrating individual and collective perspectives on end-of-life issues.

PMID: 37541781  DOI: 10.1136/spcare-2023-004238

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