The public is anxious about any plans to change the law to allow doctors to assist terminally ill patients in their suicides. Three people out of four fear that changes [such as the failed Joffe Bill] would make it harder to detect rogue doctors such as Manchester GP Harold Shipman, who was held responsible for murdering hundreds of his elderly patients and given 15 life sentences.

Care Not Killing commissioned pollsters CommunicateResearch to perform the survey in the run up to the Second Reading of the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill (Joffe Bill) in May 2006 in order to probe public opinion.

On Friday May 12th 2006 the House of Lords rejected the Bill, tabled by Lord Joffe to permit assisted suicide, by 148-100 votes.

Our survey contradicts some previous polls on euthanasia, which asked less searching questions of the public. It found:

  • Opposition to the proposal that doctors should be allowed to "prescribe and administer lethal drugs to patients who wish to commit suicide"; 65 per cent of people agreed that if such a change went ahead, "vulnerable people could feel under pressure to opt for suicide"- 28 per cent disagreed and 6 per cent said they did not know.
  • Concern that such a change in the law might put doctors under pressure; 72 per cent of people agreed that "doctors and other healthcare workers with ethical objections might feel under pressure to comply"; 23 per cent disagreed and 5 per cent said that they did not know.
  • Agreement that some patients would feel under pressure to opt for suicide; 75 per cent of people agreed that "people with treatable illness such as depression might opt prematurely for suicide"; 22 per cent of people disagreed and 3 per cent did not know.
  • Agreement that it would "make it more difficult to detect rogue doctors such as Dr Harold Shipman"; 73 per cent agreed, 19 per cent disagreed and 8 per cent did not know.
  • Agreement that "some suggest a link between the poor quality of social care towards the end of life, and the attractiveness to some elderly people of euthanasia or doctor-assisted suicide"; 62 per cent agreed, 29 per cent disagreed and 10 per cent did not know or refused to answer.
  • Agreement that "it shouldn't be part of the doctor's job to help patients to kill themselves"; 49 per cent agreed, 42 per cent disagreed and 9 per cent did not know.
  • Agreement that doctor-assisted suicide would be disturbing for other patients in a hospital ward. People were asked: "Imagine for a moment that you were in hospital and a patient in the next bed was going to be assisted to commit suicide. Do you think it would bother you or not?" 66 per cent of people answered yes; 31 per cent said No and 3 per cent did not know.
  • Agreement that old people should not be put under pressure to end their lives prematurely. People were asked to respond to the proposition: "It has been said that old people should regard death as a duty, in order not to be a financial burden on the young." Only 11 per cent agreed; 86 per cent disagreed and 3 per cent did not know or refused to answer,
  • Anxiety about the Dutch euthanasia laws being adopted in the UK. People were asked: "Some people opposed to euthanasia in Britain point to the experience of Holland where doctors could initially kill patients only if requested, but can now sometimes kill them without an explicit request. How concerned would you be if euthanasia is legalised in Britain, the same thing could happen here?" 82 per cent said they would be concerned, 14 per cent said they would be unconcerned 14 per cent and 4 per cent said that they did not know or refused to answer.
  • CommunicateResearch interviewed 1000 GB adults at random by telephone between 28 April and 4 May 2006. Data were weighted to be representative of all adults. CommunicateResearch is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.