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Patients Accepting, Grateful for Death With Dignity Program

WEDNESDAY, April 10 (HealthDay News) -- Patients and families are accepting of and grateful for a Death with Dignity program established at a comprehensive cancer care center, according to a study published in the April 11 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Elizabeth Trice Loggers, M.D., Ph.D., from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and colleagues described the implementation of a Death with Dignity program in their comprehensive cancer center.

The researchers found that, between March 5, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2011, 114 patients inquired about the program. Of these, 38.6 percent did not pursue the program; 26.3 percent started the process but chose not to continue or died before completion; and 35.1 percent underwent counseling and received a prescription for a lethal dose of secobarbital upon request. All of these 40 patients died; 24 patients after medication ingestion. Eleven participants lived for more than six months after receipt of the prescription. Fred Hutchinson Center participants accounted for 15.7 percent of all participants in the Death with Dignity program in Washington (255 persons in total). Program participants were usually white, male, and well educated and most commonly cited loss of autonomy (97.2 percent), inability to engage in enjoyable activities (88.9 percent), and loss of dignity (75.0 percent) as the reasons for participation. Regardless of whether the prescription was used, patients and their families were grateful to receive the lethal prescription.

"Overall, our Death with Dignity program has been well accepted by patients and clinicians," write the authors.

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