US medical and surgical society position statements on physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia: a review

Joseph G. Barsness, Hamline University
Casey R. Regnier, Augsburg University
C. Christopher Hook, Mayo Clinic
Paul S. Mueller, Mayo Clinic Health System


Background: An analysis of the position statements of secular US medical and surgical professional societies on physician-assisted suicide (PAS) and euthanasia have not been published recently. Available statements were evaluated for position, content, and sentiment. Methods: In order to create a comprehensive list of secular medical and surgical societies, the results of a systematic search using Google were cross-referenced with a list of societies that have a seat on the American Medical Association House of Delegates. Societies with position statements were identified. These statements were divided into 5 categories: opposed to PAS and/or euthanasia, studied neutrality, supportive, acknowledgement without statement, and no statement. Linguistic analysis was performed using RapidMinder in order to determine word frequency and sentiment respective to individual statements. To ensure accuracy, only statements with word counts > 100 were analyzed. A 2-tailed independent t test was used to test for variance among sentiment scores of opposing and studied neutrality statements. Results: Of 150 societies, only 12 (8%) have position statements on PAS and euthanasia: 11 for PAS (5 opposing and 4 studied neutrality) and 9 for euthanasia (6 opposing and 2 studied neutrality). Although the most popular words used in opposing and studied neutrality statements are similar, notable exceptions exist (suicide, medicine, and treatment appear frequently in opposing statements, but not in studied neutrality statements, whereas psychologists, law, and individuals appear frequently in studied neutrality statements, but not in opposing statements). Sentiment scores for opposing and studied neutrality statements do not differ (mean, 0.094 vs. 0.104; P = 0.90). Conclusions: Few US medical and surgical societies have position statements on PAS and euthanasia. Among them, opposing and studied neutrality statements share similar linguistic sentiment. Opposing and studied neutrality statements have clear differences, but share recommendations. Both opposing and studied neutrality statements cite potential risks of PAS legalization and suggest that good palliative care might diminish a patient’s desire for PAS.