The purpose of this study is to map the characteristics of the existing medical literature describing the medications, settings, participants and outcomes of medical assistance in dying (MAID) in order to identify knowledge gaps and areas for future research.
We searched electronic databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsychINFO, CINAHL and CENTRAL), clinical trial registries, conference abstracts and professional guidelines from jurisdictions where MAID is legal, up to February 2020. Eligible report types included technical summaries, institutional policies, practice surveys, practice guidelines and clinical studies that describe MAID provision in adults who have provided informed consent for MAID.
163 articles published between 1989 and 2020 met eligibility criteria. 75 studies described details for MAID administered by intravenous medications and 50 studies provided data on oral medications. In intravenous protocols, MAID was most commonly administered using a barbiturate (34/163) or propofol (22/163) followed by a neuromuscular blocker. Oral protocols most often used barbiturates alone (37/163) or in conjunction with an opioid medication (7/163) and often recommended using a prokinetic agent prior to lethal drug ingestion. Complications included prolonged duration of the dying process, difficulty in obtaining intravenous access and difficulty in swallowing oral agents. Most commonly, the role of physicians was prescribing (83/163) and administering medications (75/163). Nurses’ roles included administering medications (17/163) and supporting the patient (16/163) or family (13/163). The role of families involved providing support to the patient (17/163) and bringing medications from the pharmacy for self-administration (4/163).
We identified several trends in MAID provision including common medications and doses for oral and parenteral administration, roles of healthcare professionals and families, and complications that may cause patient, family and provider distress. Future research should aim to identify the medications, dosages, and administration techniques and procedures that produce the most predictable outcomes and mitigate distress for those involved.