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Clinician responses to legal requests for hastened death: a systematic review and meta-synthesis of qualitative research


Background The legalisation of medical assistance in dying in numerous countries over the last 20 years represents a significant shift in practice and scope for many clinicians who have had little-to-no training to prepare them to sensitively respond to patient requests for hastened death.

Aims Our objective was to review the existing qualitative literature on the experiences of healthcare providers responding to requests for hastened death with the aim of answering the question: how do clinicians make sense of, and respond to patients’ expressed wishes for hastened death?

Methods We performed a systematic review and meta-synthesis of primary qualitative research articles that described the experiences and perspectives of healthcare professionals who have responded to requests for hastened death in jurisdictions where MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying) was legal or depenalised. A staged coding process was used to identify and analyse core themes.

Results Although the response to requests for hastened death varied case-by-case, clinicians formulated their responses by considering seven distinct domains. These include: policies, professional identity, commitment to patient autonomy, personal values and beliefs, the patient-clinician relationship, the request for hastened death and the clinician’s emotional and psychological response.

Conclusion Responding to a request for hastened death can be an overwhelming task for clinicians. An approach that takes into consideration the legal, personal, professional and patient perspectives is required to provide a response that encompasses all the complexities associated with such a monumental request.

  • medical assistance in dying
  • palliative care
  • medical education
  • euthanasia
  • physician assisted suicide

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