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Medical assistance in dying law: a qualitative study of French cancer physicians
  1. Mathilde Chastenet1,
  2. Olivier Renard1,
  3. Pierre-Antoine Laurain2,
  4. Myriam Bonnot1 and
  5. Gisèle Chvetzoff1
  1. 1 Interdisciplinary Department of Supportive Care in Oncology, Centre Leon Berard, Lyon, France
  2. 2 Department of Gastroenterology, CHR Metz-Thionville, Metz, France
  1. Correspondence to Dr Mathilde Chastenet, Interdisciplinary department of supportive care in oncology, Centre Leon Berard, Lyon 69008, France; chastenet.mathilde{at}


Objectives The legal landscape surrounding end-of-life care in France is subject to frequent changes. A proposed law to legalise euthanasia in April 2021 has raised questions about the role of physicians. If enacted, oncologists would likely be among the first professionals impacted, as data from countries with legalised euthanasia reveal that patients with cancer constitute the majority of those seeking this option. Currently, little is known about the attitudes of French oncologists towards euthanasia. Therefore, the aim of this study was to explore the position of cancer physicians on euthanasia and their experiences in dealing with patients who request it.

Methods We conducted individual interviews with 24 cancer specialists (oncologists, radiotherapists and haematologists) at the Centre Léon Bérard in Lyon between August and October 2021. After full transcription, data were analysed thematically and for content. Data triangulation was used to establish the truthworthiness of the findings by two external researchers.

Results Most cancer specialists in our study were opposed to legalising euthanasia, citing concerns about the societal, medical and ethical implications of the practice. They refused physician-assisted suicide based on their ethical duty to preserve life, avoid harm and uphold the Hippocratic Oath. Patient requests for euthanasia were rare. Surprisingly, over a quarter of the physicians interviewed did not rule out receiving active assistance in dying themselves in cases of unbearable or hopeless situations.

Conclusions This study highlights the complex and diverse attitudes of cancer physicians towards euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, reflecting the challenges of integrating individual and collective perspectives on end-of-life issues.

  • Cancer
  • End of life care

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

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Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

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  • Contributors Conception or design of the work: MC and GC. Data collection: MC. Data analysis and interpretation: MC, OR and MB. Drafting the article: MC. Critical revision of the article: P-AL, GC. Approval of the version of the manuscript to be published: MC, OR, P-AL, MB, GC. Responsible for the overall content as guarantor: MC.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.