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More doctors oppose rather than support making assisted suicide legal, according to survey

A new survey has found that over half of doctors who take a position on the matter are against making assisted suicide legal.

The survey, conducted by Doctors.net.uk at the end of October, found that of those who took a position on the matter, 51.6% were opposed to making assisted suicide legal in the UK and 48.4% supported a change in the law. 

In particular, a large majority of those working in palliative medicine who took a position on the matter (80%) were opposed to making assisted suicide legal.

In addition, 56.5% of GPs who took a position on the question, were opposed to assisted suicide being made legal.

1,088 practising GMC-registered doctors took part in the survey, which asked for their views on whether assisted suicide should be made legal and explored the extent to which they would be willing to be involved in the process.

Among the reasons given for opposing the legalisation of assisted suicide, 94% cited protecting “vulnerable people from risk of coercion” and 87% listed a focus “on improving palliative care”.

A further 79% cited the negative impact on the doctor-patient relationship and 74% said it “would be difficult to properly regulate” as their reasons for opposing assisted suicide.

According to Doctors.net.uk, at least one physician said “It is an unwelcome slippery slope that the profession does not need at a time of low morale and staffing challenges” and another pointed out that “It is not necessary. The vast majority of deaths are comfortable and pain free”.

Doctor’s involvement

The survey also asked respondents about the extent to which they would be willing to be involved in the process, were it made legal. Only 27% of all respondents, including both those in favour and those opposed to its legalisation, said they would be willing to administer lethal drugs to a patient.

Almost half of doctors surveyed (47%) thought that making assisted suicide legal would have a detrimental impact on the medical profession. 

According to Doctors.net.uk, GPs were especially concerned that legalising assisted suicide would undermine trust between doctors and their patients.

Drop in support for assisted suicide

The doctors survey comes after recent polling from pro-assisted suicide lobby group, Dignity in Dying, found a significant drop in support for assisted suicide among the general public when compared with their own 2019 polling.

Polling from overseas shows that when the term ‘assisted suicide’ is used in polls, the majority in favour of introducing assisted suicide falls, sometimes by up to 19%. 

Whether respondents to a poll are exposed to counterarguments to the introduction of assisted suicide also appears to have an impact on the percentages of respondents who state they support introducing assisted suicide. In one poll, undertaken by Savanta ComRes, of people in England, Scotland and Wales, support for assisted suicide dropped from 73% to 43% when respondents were presented with counter-arguments. A poll that was run only in Scotland showed similar results.

Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said “It should come as no surprise that those who would be most closely involved in caring for people at the end of their lives, doctors in general, and palliative care doctors and GPs specifically, remain opposed to making assisted suicide legal”.
“The results of this survey confirm the findings of a BMA survey from 2020 that also found the overwhelming majority of doctors in palliative care remain opposed to assisted suicide. Doctors at the coal face of life and death recognise that current laws on assisted suicide and euthanasia exist to protect those who are sick, elderly, depressed or disabled from feeling obliged to end their lives. They do not need changing”.

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