British Survey: Public Favors Right to Live in Euthanasia Cases

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 10, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Survey: Public Favors Right to Live in Euthanasia Cases Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 10, 2005

London, England ( — A new survey conducted by a doctors group finds that the British public favors allowing patients to receive food and water if they have asked in advance not to have it removed. The polling results are similar to those in a recent survey conducted in the United States.

First Do No Harm, a coalition of doctors and physicians who oppose euthanasia, conducted the poll of 1,000 people and found 77 percent thought patients who made a previous request to have food and water should not be deprived of it regardless of the views of doctors or family members.

The survey also looked at the case of Leslie Burke, a patient with a degenerative brain condition.

Burke won a case at the British High Court because he feared that doctors would refuse to provide him wanted food and water when his condition deteriorates to the point that has to receive nourishment through a feeding tube.

Current British Medical Association ethical guidelines permit doctors to stop tube-supplied nutrition and hydration if they believe the patient’s quality of life is poor, leading to eventual death.

The poll found only one-third of respondents favored guidelines for doctors allowing them to withhold food and water from patients who can’t make their own medical decisions.

"The survey shows that this humane ruling has the backing of the public," Dr. Mary Knowles, chair of First Do No Harm, told the Daily Mail newspaper.

The results come short after an April Zogby poll showing 79 percent said the patient should not have food and water taken away while just 9 percent said yes.

The Zogby poll also found that, if a person becomes incapacitated and has not expressed their preference for medical treatment, as in Terri Schiavo’s case, 43 percent say "the law should presume that the person wants to live, even if the person is receiving food and water through a tube" while just 30 percent disagree.