Study: UK Doctors Show Little Support For Legalizing
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 19, 2006
MIDDLESEX, ENGLAND--An anonymous survey of doctors in the United Kingdom has revealed that few perform euthanasia, so-called "mercy killing", or physician-assisted suicide, and that doctors show little support for changing laws to make these practices legal.
The study, published in this month's journal Palliative Medicine, involved 857 UK medical practitioners who responded to a questionnaire that had been used in other countries to survey doctors about their most recent "end of life" decisions in 2004.
Judging from the data collected, Clive Seale, Professor of Sociology at Brunel University, determined that doctors engaged in voluntary euthanasia -- in which the patient asked to die -- in 936 cases, or 0.16 percent of the time. Doctors engaged in involuntary euthanasia -- in which the patient did not or was not able to ask at the time of death -- in 1,930 cases, or 0.33 percent of the time.
None of the doctors said they had been involved in physician-assisted suicide, in which they supplied the patient with medication so the patient could commit suicide later.
Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are both illegal in the UK.
The survey did indicate that, in one-third of all deaths they attended, doctors provided patients with medication that would reduce their symptoms of pain, for instance, but that also might have shortened their lives.
Less than five percent of doctors felt current laws had interfered with how they treated their patients, while less than three percent felt changes in the law would have helped guide them in their decisions.
Seale said the research shows medical practitioners in the UK choose to alleviate their patients' suffering rather than end it by killing them or helping them to die.
In spite of those low numbers, a pro-euthanasia group said the study supports its efforts to legalize some forms of euthanasia.
Last year, the British Medical Association decided to take a neutral position on legalizing physician-assisted suicide, dropping years of resistance to changes in the law.
Many disability groups have strongly opposed efforts to make assisted-suicide and euthanasia legal, believing that such laws would put the lives of people with disabilities and medical conditions at further risk, particularly at a time when health care costs are high.
"National survey of end-of-life decisions made by UK medical practitioners" Abstract (Palliative Medicine)
"Euthanasia Used in Less Than 1% of U.K. Deaths, Study Shows" (Bloomberg)