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Survey of New York physicians shows support for aid in dying

By admin | January 28, 2019


01/28/2019 05:02 AM EST

ALBANY — Nearly 3 in 5 physicians in New York state support measures that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal medications for terminally ill patients who wish to end their lives, according to an online survey conducted on behalf of an advocacy group.

Of the 601 doctors sampled, 56 percent supported medical aid in dying — alternatively referred to as physician-assisted suicide among detractors. The findings were released Monday by Compassion & Choices New York, which supports legislation authorizing the practice.

“We were only surprised at the results in so far it showed how strongly doctors supported having this option,” Corinne Carey, the group’s campaign director, told POLITICO. “The doctors’ support has been among the top concerns of lawmakers that we’ve talked to.”

Support from doctors increased to 67 percent in favor and 19 percent opposed, according to the survey, when they were informed of the provisions of the Medical Aid in Dying Act, NY A2694 (19R), which requires two physicians to determine that an adult patient has fewer than six months to live. But physicians were less likely to say they’d be willing to write such a prescription, with 42 percent saying they would and 35 percent saying they would not.

The report was intended as a counterweight to a similar survey undertaken by the Medical Society of the State of New York, which has roughly 30,000 members and has long opposed aid in dying.

That effort was undermined by a low response rate and design flaws that made it susceptible to being gamed by some of the most-ardent voices on the issue, who were able to easily forward it to like-minded colleagues and distort the results. The ensuing fallout has sown dissent among MSSNY’s members.

A presentation of the survey’s results to the Legislature by the society’s president, Thomas Madejski, last year rankled bill sponsor Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) and other supporters, who felt it was misleading and downplayed the methodological concerns.

“We wanted to try to get an accurate picture of how doctors in our state feel about this,” Carey said. “The Legislature deserves to know the truth.”

Compassion & Choices’ survey was conducted by a sampling of New York physicians listed in a database maintained by Medscape, which is owned by WebMD. A handful of specialties like dermatology and plastic surgery, in which the issue is largely outside their practice, were excluded, and primary care providers made up nearly half of those surveyed.

Last year, Hawaii became the seventh state to legalize the practice, though Vermont is the only state east of the Mountain Time Zone to have done so.

Opposition to the practice does not fall neatly along partisan lines, but comes most vocally from disability rights advocates — who fear vulnerable people would be subject to coercion — and religious groups, who object on moral grounds.

A Quinnipiac University poll released last May found that voters in New York supported medical aid in dying 63 percent to 29 percent, but that was nearly flipped — 61 percent opposed to 34 in favor — for those who attend religious services weekly.


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