guardian.co.uk 24 March 2009
Doctors very rarely help anyone who is terminally ill to die and two-thirds are opposed to changing the law to allow them to do so, new research reveals today. In only around one in 200 deaths have doctors given a patient a drug with the explicit intention of speeding their end, according to a survey on British social attitudes by Prof Clive Seale from the Centre for Health Sciences, Queen Mary University of London, which updates similar work he did in 2004.
Where doctors have helped a patient to a faster escape from their pain or distress, most say they have not shortened life by more than 24 hours and nine out of 10 say their actions hastened death by less than a week. Doctors who admit to it say they had the full collaboration of the patient and family. The revelations of the limited scale of assisted dying in the UK are published in the journal Palliative Medicine alongside a separate study of doctors’ attitudes towards euthanasia, which shows they are substantially out of line with public opinion.
Only a third of doctors (34%) are in favour of the legalisation of euthanasia and 35% in favour of assisted suicide, Seale’s work shows. That contrasts with 82% and 62% respectively of the general public who were asked exactly the same questions in the survey. The fundamental difference of opinion is important, says Seale, because governments who have passed laws to enable assisted dying have only done so with the support of the medical profession, as happened in the Netherlands.