A poll published in March allegedly shows that three quarters of Brits think euthanasia should be legalised. The poll, conducted by YouGov, also found that 56% of people felt that those with non-terminal but incurable illness should also be allowed medical assistance to die upon request.

Time for change?

Pro-euthanasia groups have welcomed the poll as showing public support for their cause - Sarah Wootton of Dignity In Dying said: 'The law must change to allow people this choice'.

However, contrary to what has been stated in recent news reports, it is not true that Britain's law is out of step with the rest of Europe, nor is it true that 'many countries have legalised some form of assisted dying'.

It is true that European countries deal with euthanasia and assisted suicide in various different way under their penal codes and impose different penalties for breaking their laws. However, only in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg is euthanasia legal. Furthermore, only a handful of countries allow physician assisted suicide. So, it is British law that reflects the european 'norm'.

Public opinion

Public opinion polls often do show majority support for a change in the law. But this phenomemon is quite common in polls about emotive issues – eg capital punishment, immigration – where people are invited to air their views on matters where they often don't have access to the facts...

  • Advances in palliative care, of which there is often insufficient awareness, have largely removed requests for euthanasia.
  • There are real dangers in legalising an option which, despite appearing desirable to a few determined people, could create subtle pressures on dying people at a vulnerable time of their lives.
  • Terminally ill people are highly dependent on the advice they receive from their physicians. Physicians are not uniformly competent or altruistic, and some dying people could end up taking irrevocable decisions based of inadequate advice.
  • Where euthanasia has been legalised, palliative care is not a recognised medical speciality as it is in Britain.
  • It's all very well to talk about 'safeguards', but the ones we have seen to date in recent 'assisted dying' bills have been paper-thin.

Questions & Answers

Also, it depends what question you ask as to what answer you get. In May 2006 a Communicate Research Poll reported on this site showed the following:

  • Opposition to the proposal that doctors should be allowed to 'prescribe and administer lethal drugs to patients who wish to commit suicide'. 65% of people agreed that if such a change went ahead, 'vulnerable people could feel under pressure to opt for suicide.
  • Concern that such a change in the law might put doctors under pressure. 72% of people agreed that 'doctors and other healthcare workers with ethical objections might feel under pressure to comply'.
  • Agreement that some patients would feel under pressure to opt for suicide. 75% of people agreed that 'people with treatable illness such as depression might opt prematurely for suicide'.
  • Agreement by 73% that it would 'make it more difficult to detect rogue doctors such as Dr Harold Shipman'.

Doctors themselves recognise these dangers, which is one reason why the great majority of them want nothing at all to do with 'assisted dying'.

Care Not Killing