British public supports mercy killing

February 04, 2002

The authors extracted their findings from the eleventh British Social Attitudes Survey, published in 1994. Just under a thousand people responded when asked if a doctor or a family member should be legally allowed to end the life of a person with a painful and incurable disease, if that person requests it.

Eighty four per cent of respondents felt that it should be permissible for a doctor to assist a patient to die, and 54 per cent felt that a family member should be allowed to do so. This compares with 75 per cent in favour in the US and 73 per cent in favour in Australia.

The figures show that support for legislation was no stronger among older age groups or people with a disability than any other sector of the community, although people with strong religious convictions were more likely to oppose such a move. Those of non-Christian faiths or no faith were more likely to support it.

The authors caution that these surveys provide a snapshot of attitudes that may change in the light of events, such as Harold Shipman, the GP convicted of murdering some of his patients. But support for doctor assisted suicide in specific circumstances appears to be strong in Britain.
[Attitudes to physicians and family assisted suicide: results from a study of public attitudes in Britain 2002;28:52]

BMJ Specialty Journals

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