They change for the worst. A recent survey about physicians’ bioethics position held by doctors in particualr cases (Medscape Ethics Report 2014, Part 1: Life, Death, and Pain. December 16, 2014.) features the opinions of American and European physicians on the ethical criteria that should be applied in certain difficult situations that present in clinical practice. A total of 21,531 physicians from more than 25 specialties were surveyed from September to November 2014.
We shall discuss, by way of summary, some of the most significant findings of that survey.
With respect to assisted suicide, more doctors are in favour of this practice today compared to four years ago, rising from 46% in 2010 to 54% in 2014, with more European than American physicians in favour of it (13% more). Among the European countries included in the study, Spain is the only county in which there are more doctors against (48%) than in favour of this practice (36%). In the remaining countries analysed (Germany, United Kingdom, Italy and France), the percentage of physicians in favour exceeds those who oppose assisted suicide.
Newborns with few survival prospects
Another question analysed was whether intensive care should be provided to newborns with very few survival prospects or who may suffer serious consequences: 31 % of doctors believe that intensive care should be administered, compared to 27 % who believe that intensive care should not be applied if the life expectancy is low or the patient will be left with severe limitations. The remaining 43% said it depended on other factors. In other words, more than one quarter of physicians, according to the survey, would stop treating a baby if it was expected that they were going to have a “terrible quality of life” (as they literally state in the study) in the future.
When asked about abortion, most of the doctors surveyed (44%) stated that they would perform an abortion even if it was against their convictions or beliefs. Forty-one percent would not do so. The remaining 15% answered “it depends” to this question.
This finding in physicians bioethics position is particularly worrying, as it highlights that ethical criteria have little influence in most respondents when it comes to deciding how to act in certain situations (in this case serious), such as abortion. This discrepancy between convictions and clinical practice, found in 44% of the respondents, is alarming. Not only does it betray the Hippocratic oath pertaining to the practice of medicine, but it opens the doors to the implementation, at will and without any ethical reference, of measures or criteria that seek the utility, economy or simple prestige of those who practice them, but may not respect the dignity of the patients.
In relation to the question of whether late-stage abortions should be legal, 23% of doctors were in favour of late-stage abortions (after 20 weeks), compared to 41% who said that they were against it. It should be remembered that 36 States in the USA prohibit these types of abortions, excluding risk situations that threaten the life or health of the mother. Abortion when the foetus may be viable outside its mother’s uterus has been banned in the State of Florida since 2014.