The survey from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) found that only 22 percent of cancer doctors support assisted suicide in terminally-ill patients compared to 45 percent in a similar study three years ago. Support for euthanasia was just 6.5 percent down from 22 percent in the previous report. ASCO surveyed 3,200 oncologists for the report.
But while doctors are less willing to help end the life of terminally-ill patients, the majority of oncologists, 64 percent, said they have received requests for euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide.
About 13 percent of oncologists surveyed said they had performed assisted suicide or euthanasia during their careers, four percent in the past year. The survey's results are more pronounced than a similar survey published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine last month.
The Journal's survey of doctors in all fields, found that 18 percent of doctors received a request for assisted suicide and 3 percent of the total had acceded to the request. About 11 percent had received a request for euthanasia and 4.7 percent acceded.
ASCO's survey also revealed that 56 percent of doctors have trouble obtaining nurses and care-givers for the terminally ill. Doctors said lack of insurance coverage for unskilled home care was the biggest obstacle in obtaining palliative care.
"The less access physicians have to such services, the more likely they are to grant requests for physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia," ASCO's President Dr. Robert Mayer said. "We must continue to improve palliative care in order to render euthanasia and assisted suicide unnecessary."
The report also found that less than 50 percent of oncologists feel competent in managing depression in the terminally ill. Doctors surveyed said more than 20 percent of their patients die in pain. While 95 percent of those surveyed felt they could treat pain answers given in the survey found that one quarter of doctors were not managing pain well.