Half of doctors back law change on euthanasia to allow assisted dying

Half of doctors back law change on euthanasia: 50% support assisted dying with prescription of life-ending drugs, new survey reveals

  • Half of British doctors support law change to allow for euthanasia, survey found
  • But just 36% would be willing to prescribe drugs to lead to someone’s death 
  • Survey of 29,000 doctors and students was the largest to date on assisted dying
  • Overall, GPs and those working in palliative care tended to be more opposed 

Half of doctors believe there should be a change in the law to allow patients to be helped to die.

The largest survey to date of British medics’ views on assisted dying found 50 per cent support the change to allow the prescription of life-ending drugs.

The results could pave the way for the UK’s largest doctors’ union to drop its long-standing opposition to assisted dying – its position since 2006.

Four years ago the British Medical Association rejected a motion to adopt a more neutral position on the issue. 

Half of British doctors support law change to allow for euthanasia, survey found. But just 36 per cent said they would be willing to actively participate in prescribing drugs which would lead to someone’s death

But the latest survey of its members found just 39 per cent are personally opposed to a change in the law, with 11 per cent undecided.

However, when it came to being prepared to actively participate in prescribing drugs which would lead to someone’s death, just 36 per cent said they would be willing, compared with 45 per cent who wouldn’t.

The union said the results of the survey of almost 29,000 medics and students will not determine BMA policy but will be discussed in a debate at its annual meeting next year.

Anonymous surveys suggest a large number of doctors already illegally help patients to die. 

The Queen’s former physician, Sir Richard Thompson, has said doctors have a ‘duty’ to help patients end their lives comfortably.

The Royal College of Physicians adopted a neutral view last year following its own survey of members. 

Anonymous surveys suggest a large number of doctors already illegally help patients to die. Pictured: Dignitas assisted suicide clinic in Zurich, Switzerland

This found that 43.4 per cent said the RCP should oppose a change in the law, 31.6 per cent said it should support it and 25 per cent said the body should be neutral.

The BMA survey, which asked whether the union should actively support attempts to change the law on assisted dying, found 40 per cent of respondents agreed, while a third favoured opposition.

Overall, medical students and doctors working in emergency medicine and intensive care were generally more supportive of assisted dying. 

GPs and those working in palliative care tended to be more opposed.

Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the BMA medical ethics committee, said: ‘Physician-assisted dying is an emotive and sensitive issue that understandably ignites a broad range of strong personal views across the general public and the medical profession.

‘These detailed findings will make for an in-depth, considered debate on the future of the BMA’s policy.’

Anti-euthanasia campaigner Dr Gordon Macdonald, of Care Not Killing, said: ‘Once again, there appears to be a difference between practising and non-practising doctors.

‘Doctors at the coal face of caring for the elderly and terminally ill, who work in palliative care, geriatric medicine and general practice, continue to oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia.’   

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