Euthanasia should not be legalised, say two-thirds of GPs


Last updated at 22:00 18 May 2007

More than two-thirds of GPs still oppose the legalisation of euthanasia, a survey has revealed.

Even if they were allowed to do so, less than half - 42 per cent - would be prepared to help a terminally-ill patient die.

However the survey, by GPs' magazine Pulse, shows that many doctors had taken actions which may have hastened a patient's death.

The survey of 309 GPs found that more than half - 54 per cent - had withheld treatment such as antibiotics to a patient, knowing it could hasten their death.

Four in five said that whether or not they had done so themselves, such a decision could be justified.

And 58 per cent had given pain-relieving drugs which could hasten death, even if that was not the intended consequence. Three-quarters said that could be justified.

A spokeswoman for the Pro-Life Alliance said: "We welcome the results of this poll, which reflects the strength of opposition to euthanasia within the medical profession.

"Opposition to the legalisation of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia has been repeatedly affirmed in the policies adopted by various medical bodies.

"It is perfectly acceptable for doctors to use their discretion to withhold medical treatment when such treatment is futile and will be a burden rather than a benefit to the patient. This is not euthanasia."

Dr Peter Saunders of the Care Not Killing Alliance, said: "It is striking that so many justify doses of painkilling medicine to hasten death.

"It illustrates the huge number of GPs who don't understand how to use painkilling drugs such as morphine properly.

"The priority has to be to make good palliative care more widely acceptable and train the vast number of ignorant GPs about the proper use of morphine."

Dignity in Dying chief executive Deborah Annetts said: "This survey clearly shows what Dignity in Dying has long said: that doctors hold a range of views on assisted dying and that many support a change in the law.

"Pulse magazine's survey demonstrates that GPs are in touch with the views of the vast majority of their patients: 80 per cent of the public believe that a terminally-ill person should have the option of an assisted death.

"Given the range of views held by doctors on this issue, it is a shame the organisations that are supposed to represent them are failing to do so, and on an issue of such great importance to the public."

She added: "This survey is yet another signal that the medical associations are out of step with doctors and the public."

Members of the British Medical Association voted last year to oppse euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. It overturned a decision made the previous year to adopt a neutral position towards so-called mercy killings.

A spokeswoman said: "The BMA has members with wide-ranging views on these issues but at last year's annual meeting the majority of doctors voted to oppose any form of assisted dying.

"The BMA will continue to debate this subject and represent the views of its members."

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now