British Doctors Less Likely to Engage in Assisted Suicide, Euthanasia

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 16, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Doctors Less Likely to Engage in Assisted Suicide, Euthanasia Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
October 16
, 2006

London, England ( — A new study shows that doctors in England are less likely to engage in euthanasia or assisted suicide than their European counterparts. When British physicians do engage in those practices they normally don’t intervene until a patient has less than a week to live.

That’s the conclusion of an article that will soon be published in the Palliative Medicine journal and the results of the study are based on a survey of 857 doctors.

Clive Seale, the Brunel University professor who conducted the research, is also the author of a previous study which found euthanasia played a role in the deaths of nearly 3,000 patients in 2004.

In the new survey, Seale compared the attitudes of British doctors with those in the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland. Holland, Belgium and Switzerland have legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Seale found that British doctors were more likely to discuss end of life issues with colleagues but more cautious in killing a patient.

He found that doctors were less likely to move ahead with assisted suicide or euthanasia because of the British culture’s higher reliance on shared decision-making and palliative care as well as fears of prosecution.

In his previous study, Seale found that British doctors do not want to see the legalization of assisted suicide despite a campaign to do that.

But it also found that, of the 584,791 deaths in the UK in 2004, 936 were by voluntary euthanasia and 1,930 involved the doctor killing the patient without the patient’s consent, though a large portion of those deaths included patients who died during the normal course of medical treatment.

Of the euthanasia deaths, one-third of them were the result of doctors treating the symptoms of a disease or injury and just under a third involved doctors withholding treatment in cases when it is supposedly in the best interest of the patient.

Both of those courses of action are legal in Britain.

Responding to the new survey, Julia Millington, political director of the ProLife Alliance told the BBC, "The results of this study fly in the face of deceptive claims made over the past two years by the pro-euthanasia lobby who allege that doctors are killing thousands of terminally ill patients every year in the UK."

None of the doctors in the previous poll said they had been involved in an assisted suicide and just 2.6 percent of the physicians surveyed said it would be beneficial to change the law to allow it.

Last November, lawmakers in the House of Lords introduced a private members bill to legalize assisted suicide but pro-life, religious and doctor’s groups were able to defeat it.