Half of All Doctors Have Been Asked by Patients to Aid Euthanasia, Survey Reveals

By Maxine Frith Social Affairs Correspondent | The Independent (London, England), May 14, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Half of All Doctors Have Been Asked by Patients to Aid Euthanasia, Survey Reveals


Maxine Frith Social Affairs Correspondent, The Independent (London, England)


HALF OF the doctors in Britain have had to deal with patients requesting the right to die, researchers revealed yesterday.

A quarter of the medical profession was in favour of a change in the law that would allow them to help terminally ill people to end their lives. But the independent survey of more than 900 doctors, mainly GPs, commissioned by the anti-euthanasia group Right to Life, found that 60 per cent were opposed to the concept of assisted suicide.

One in 10 said they had dealt with between five and 10 patients requesting euthanasia and nine doctors had been asked for help up to 100 times.

Next month will see the second reading of a private member's Bill in the House of Lords, tabled by the former human rights lawyer Lord Joffe, which calls for the legalisation of assisted suicide for dying people.

Under the proposed law, patients would have to prove to two doctors that they were terminally ill, in unbearable pain and mentally competent to make the decision.

All other options, such as palliative care, would have to be discussed before doctors and the patient signed a consent form in the presence of a solicitor. There would then be a cooling-off period of between seven and 30 days, depending on the patient's condition, before another consultation with a doctor. Only then would the doctor be allowed to help their patient to die, usually by prescribing medication.

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, which is supporting Lord Joffe's Bill, said: "We don't want to see hundreds of people getting help to die, but we do want the choice for the small group of people who are terminally ill, in intolerable pain and who want to end their lives. This law would promote discussion between doctors and patients - something that does not happen at the moment."

But many doctors believe that a lack of hospice places and poor NHS resources are driving people to join assisted suicide groups.

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