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Most U.S. Doctors Now Support Aid in Dying: Survey

For the first time, most U.S. doctors — 54 percent — favor aid in dying, backing the rights of patients with an incurable illness to seek “a dignified death,” according to a survey of more than 21,000 doctors released Tuesday night by Medscape. In 2010, a Medscape survey asked the same question, finding that 46 percent of doctors agreed with the notion of assisted suicide. Medscape, owned by WebMD, is an online resource for physicians.

The survey language posed to the 21,000 doctors read: "I believe terminal illnesses such as metastatic cancers or degenerative neurological diseases rob a human of his/her dignity. Provided there is no shred of doubt that the disease is incurable and terminal, I would support a patient's decision to end their life, and I would also wish the same option was available in my case should the need arise. Physicians are healers. We are not instruments of death. This is wrong."

The new survey was conducted from September through November — a time that paralleled the highly public campaign waged by Brittany Maynard, 29, who decided to end her own life with a lethal prescription on Nov. 1 to avoid the final stages of terminal brain cancer. She died in Oregon, where “death with dignity” is legal.

“It represents a remarkable shift,” said Arthur Caplan, founding head of the division of bioethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, and a frequent NBC News contributor. “If physician opposition continues to weaken, it is likely that despite fierce resistance from some religious groups and some in the disability community, more states will follow Oregon, Washington and Vermont, and legalize.”

Brittany Maynard's Call For Action 1:00

IN-DEPTH

— Bill Briggs