Support for doctor-assisted suicide

July 05, 2012, 1:20 PM GMT+0

69% Britons say law should allow doctors to assist terminally ill to die; 46% if illness not terminal

Over two thirds of the British public have expressed support for the laws on assisted suicide to be changed so that it would be legal for doctors to assist in ending the life of someone suffering a terminal illness, our poll shows.

Support is not as strong for the aided death of patients whose illness is painful and incurable but not terminal, with around half in favour and one third opposed.

  • 69% believe the law should be changed to legalise assisted suicide for someone suffering from a terminal illness ; 17% don't think the law should not be changed
  • 46% think the law should be changed to make assisted suicide legal for those suffering from a painful and incurable disease, regardless of whether it is terminal; 31% believe this law should not be changed

Under a year to live

Similarly, around three quarters of Britons are in favour of a new bill that would legalise assisted suicide for terminally ill people who have less than a year to live.

The bill states that such a decision would have to be agreed upon by at least two doctors and the patient themselves would have to take the final action that ended their life, e.g. swallowing lethal medication.

  • 73% support the proposed bill that would legalise assisted suicide for terminally ill people who have less than a year to live
  • 12% oppose a bill that would allow doctors to assist such terminally ill patients in taking their own life
  • 14% don’t know how they feel about an assisted suicide bill for the terminally ill

Decriminalising ‘professional’ assistance

The poll comes in light of a year-long inquiry on the issue of assisted suicide and euthanasia laws by the ‘Independent Commission on Assisted Dying’, which is made up of a number of medics and peers in the field. The Commission has recommended that doctors should be able to prescribe lethal doses of medication for terminally ill people who wish to end their lives. Plans would mean terminal patients must be judged to have the mental capacity and clear desire to die of their own volition.

While the Director of Public Prosecutions has effectively decriminalised ‘amateur’ assistance ‒ whereby a terminally ill person is de facto allowed to die with the help of loved ones ‒ this is as opposed to assistance by healthcare professionals, which is still likely to result in prosecution.

Currently, any healthcare professional who takes part in assisted suicide is eligible for up to 14 years imprisonment.

Unsurprisingly, the issue is controversial within the medical profession, with some organisations far more condemnatory. For example, The British Medical Association (BMA) has likened any suicide assisted by doctors to murder, but The Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying (HPAD) encourages a more neutral stance on the part of doctors.

See the survey details and full results here (pages 9-10)