UK Nurses Say Assisted Suicide Should be Allowed

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 25, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

UK Nurses Say Assisted Suicide Should be Allowed

by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 25, 2003

London, England ( — A disturbing new survey of nurses in the UK finds that one-third believe they should be allowed to help patients kill themselves via assisted suicide. Moreover, two-thirds of the nurses surveyed in a recent poll say assisted suicide should be legalized in Britain as it has been in other European countries.

According to the poll of 2700 nurses published in Nursing Times magazine, one quarter of nurses said they had already been asked by patients to help end their lives when the pain of a disease or medical condition became too intense.

However, pro-life groups say the nurses’ focus should be on pain relief and management rather than causing the death of patients.

Rachel Downey, editor of Nursing Times, was not surprised by the survey’s results.

"Nurses are at the side of dying patients who are in extreme discomfort and they want to ease that pain and suffering," Downey said. "However, at present they are placed in a very difficult and unclear position."

A spokesman for the Royal College of Nursing said the group doesn’t agree that assisted suicide should be legalized.

"We don’t think it’s the right time for a change in the euthanasia laws," the representative said. "Some countries which do have laws, like Holland, seem to be having difficulties in how they are being managed."

Nancy Valko, a leading pro-life nurse in the United States, told some nurses are confused about the difference between adequate pain relief for patients and assisted suicide.

In fact, forty percent of nurses say they have already given patients pain medications at high doses they know could cause death.

"Some unnecessarily worry when they give a patient’s usual or an increased dose of pain medication to a patient who is actually having or has had pain and the patient coincidentally dies a short time later," Valko explained. "On the other hand, I have seen nurses defend terminal sedation and/or large doses of pain medication to a patient who is not in pain and hasn’t needed pain medication before by claiming that this is just ‘preventing’ pain."

Downey said the situation is tenuous because one-third of nurses oppose legalizing assisted suicide and two-thirds say they would not use assisted suicide even if it were an option.

A poll conducted by the magazine in February found that one in 20 nurses believe colleagues are helping terminally ill patients die.

The February poll found 55 of the 1,173 nurses questioned agreed that "Health professionals already quietly help patients to die."

In January, a French court sentenced a 33-year-old former nurse to 10 years in prison for involuntarily euthanizing six patients, pointing to the kind of devastating thinking that can result from legalizing assisted suicide.

Related web sites:
Nurses for Life –