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The acceptability of ending a patient’s life
  1. M Guedj1,
  2. M Gibert2,
  3. A Maudet1,
  4. M T Muñoz Sastre1,
  5. E Mullet2,
  6. P C Sorum3
  1. 1Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches en Psychopathologie, MDR, Université du Mirail, Toulouse, France
  2. 2Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, France
  3. 3Departments of Medicine and Pediatrics, Albany Medical College, Albany, NY, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor P Sorum
 Albany Medical Center Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, 724 Watervliet-Shaker Road, Latham, NY 12110, USA;


Objectives: To clarify how lay people and health professionals judge the acceptability of ending the life of a terminally ill patient.

Design: Participants judged this acceptability in a set of 16 scenarios that combined four factors: the identity of the actor (patient or physician), the patient’s statement or not of a desire to have his life ended, the nature of the action as relatively active (injecting a toxin) or passive (disconnecting life support), and the type of suffering (intractable physical pain, complete dependence, or severe psychiatric illness).

Participants: 115 lay people and 72 health professionals (22 nurse’s aides, 44 nurses, six physicians) in Toulouse, France.

Main measurements: Mean acceptability ratings for each scenario for each group.

Results: Life ending interventions are more acceptable to lay people than to the health professionals. For both, acceptability is highest for intractable physical suffering; is higher when patients end their own lives than when physicians do so; and, when physicians are the actors, is higher when patients have expressed a desire to die (voluntary euthanasia) than when they have not (involuntary euthanasia). In contrast, when patients perform the action, acceptability for the lay people and nurse’s aides does not depend on whether the patient has expressed a desire to die, while for the nurses and physicians unassisted suicide is more acceptable than physician assisted suicide.

Conclusions: Lay participants judge the acceptability of life ending actions in largely the same way as do healthcare professionals.

  • PAS, physician assisted suicide
  • euthanasia
  • physician assisted suicide
  • Functional Theory of Cognition

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