Dr. Willard Gaylin, president of the Hastings Center, well-known bioethics study center, thinks the "Debbie" story may be a hoax.

"I don't believe the story as it is told," he said in an interview yesterday. "There is something in its style and quality that sounds phony. The callousness, the breeziness, the fact that it is a physician who does not even know the patient, doesn't even bother talking to her -- it all sounds like a setup."

The story, originally published in the Jan. 8 Journal of the American Medical Association and reprinted on the cover of this section, is a physician's account of administering a lethal injection to a patient.

Ethicist Gaylin suggests that it may actually have been written by a mercy killing advocate who "thought it would be interesting to have an article on it. Or someone {who opposes it} and wanted to present it in the most brutal way.

"Even if I think of the most insensitive physician, it doesn't ring true. There is an arrogant lack of anguish that seems to me to lend a dissonant note. I've been one of those tired residents" -- like the account's author -- "and I cannot see someone doing this to someone without talking to the family, talking to the patient's physician, without truly knowing the case."

Dr. George Lundberg, editor of the journal, said he found it credible as an incident that could happen in today's hospitals where doctors more than ever face constant life-or-death decisions. He has said he knows the name of the physician but has not independently verified the story.

"If it did happen," said Gaylin, "with its moral tone, its almost swaggering introduction, then I think you've got a psychopathic person who should be reprimanded or suffer penalties."