General Caveats

Market Research Services (MRS) found that virtually all the surveys which had been carried out over the period were quantitative rather than qualitative in nature, ie. they consisted of opinion-poll type research directed at ascertaining how many respondents agreed or disagreed with specific propositions rather than in-depth research designed to assess responses to complex and sensitive issues. The report therefore concluded that the surveys 'tend to produce findings which at best may be considered one-dimensional. Simple, direct questions placed without a proper explanatory context and with limited options for reply can sometimes produce results which in fact may be misleading'. Although some idea of the basic attitude of the general public/health sector is available through these research sources, this does not amount to an authentic picture that is in any way comprehensive.

1984-1995 British Social Attitudes Survey

  • Attitudes towards legalisation are more complex than a single question survey might suggest.
  • Varying levels of support for euthanasia are expressed, linked to particular circumstances:
  • 86% for an individual not expected to recover consciousness and on a life-support machine
  • 80% in the case of an incurable and painful terminal illness, such as cancer
  • 58% for someone not expected to recover consciousness, but not on a life-support machine
  • 51% support the legalisation of euthanasia for those who become totally dependent on others
  • 44% for a non-painful terminal illness
  • 42% for a painful illness which is not terminal.
  • 12% for any who are simply tired of living

BSA proffers these findings more as indications of the complexity of the issues, rather than as definitive statements of public opinion.

In an NOP omnibus survey, carried out in 2004 for the VES, 55% of respondents chose their doctor as the person whom they would wish to help them to die, if that were legal. The other choices were a relative (19%), a friend (9%) and-surprisingly low-a nurse (2%).

Other potential points

  • 2003 poll for DRC suggested disabled people concerned they might be threatened by euthanasia legislation
  • 2004 79% of MPs opposed and 21% supported the principle of voluntary euthanasia for the terminally-ill

MRS speculates that the gulf between the attitudes of politicians and those of the public might be explained by an assumption that 'MPs, by definition, are more accustomed than most to taking into account the implications for society as a whole of proposed legal reforms as a separate issue to their personal feelings on the subject.'

2005 YouGov poll: 60% felt elderly people might be nervous about going into hospital if VE were legalised

Views of the Royal Colleges and Medical Associations


  • RCGP (Royal College of GPs)
  • RC Nurses
  • APM (Asssociation for Palliative Medicine of Great Britain and Ireland)
  • GMC (General Medical Council)
  • WMA (World Medical Association)
  • RC Anaesthetics
  • RC of Surgeons (Edinburgh)


  • BMA (British Medical Association)
  • RC Physicians

Views of Health Care Professionals

Doctors appear to be less in favour of legalising euthanasia than the general public. At 'face value', the results suggest that support for legalising euthanasia is diminishing latterly, after expanding over a number of years.

According to the report, 'there is some evidence to suggest that the closer the experience of end-of-life patients, the less sure the professionals are about the prospect of a change in the law in favour of euthanasia'[74].

1987: NOP telephone survey of 301 GPs for VES, which suggested that, if the law were to be changed along the lines of the ADTI Bill:

  • 53% would not carry out euthanasia on a patient
  • 35% would consider doing so
  • 10% might consider doing so

1993: Survey of 312 GPs and hospital consultants on attitudes of doctors to requests for euthanasia:

  • 46% of those questioned would be prepared to consider practising euthanasia if asked by a competent patient
  • 32% would not
  • There was a significant proportion of undecided respondents

1995: Doctor magazine omnibus survey of 2150 doctors:

  • 44% supported legal reform
  • 53% rejected it
  • 43% (slightly more GPs than hospital doctors) would consider practising euthanasia if it were legal

1996: Survey, by Professor Sheila McLean, of 1000 respondents:

  • Showed a sharp distinction between the attitudes of medical practitioners towards assisted suicide on the one hand and euthanasia on the other-with 43% favouring the former and 19% the latter.

1998: postal survey of 322 United Kingdom psychiatrists:

  • 38% believed that euthanasia should be legalised
  • 35% were willing to assess the psychological suitability of applicants for euthanasia.

1999 survey of 333 geriatricians (45% of all United Kingdom doctors in this speciality):

  • 80% felt that euthanasia could never be justified ethically
  • 23% felt that it should be legal in some circumstances
  • 68% felt that pas could never be justified ethically
  • 24% felt that it should be legal in some circumstances
  • Only 12% and 13% respectively felt that they would practice active euthanasia or pas in some circumstances.
  • Principal reasons given for not wanting euthanasia/pas to be legalised were:
  • 84% A belief that legislation might put pressure on vulnerable patients to request euthanasia/pas
  • 53% A fear that the social process of dying and grieving may become undermined

2003 Opinion Research Business survey, of 986 respondents, carried out for Right to Life: (full results for this survey)

  • Are doctors in favour of euthanasia? 61% against; 22% in favour; 14% don't know
  • Are doctors in favour of assisted suicide ? 60% against; 25% in favour; 13% don't know
  • Would doctors be prepared to perform euthanasia, if legalised? 76% wouldn't; 23% would; 1% didn't reply
  • Would doctors be prepared to perform assisted suicide, if legalised? 74% wouldn't; 26% would

2003 and 2004 surveys commissioned by the VES

  • 33% of doctors might favour a change in the law, though with some indication of waning support for euthanasia between the two years.

1988 and 2003 readership surveys by the Nursing Times:

  • 1988 – 44% of nurses expressed a willingness to be involved in the administration of lethal drugs to suffering terminally ill patients
  • 2003 - (according to the journal) two thirds of nurses believed that euthanasia should be legalised.

Hospital Doctor, March 2003, in association with Nuffield Trust (3000 doctors surveyed)

  • 57% of doctors opposed to legalisation of euthanasia (compared with 54% in a similar 1994 survey)
  • 38% said the law should be changed (compared with 44% in 1994)

Association for Palliative Medicine (APM) survey of its members (attracted an 84% response rate)

  • 72% percent or respondents would not be prepared to participate in a process of patient assessment which formed part of an application for pas or voluntary euthanasia.