Opinion

Public opinion on assisted dying

 

The general public

 

The 2010 and 2007 British Social Attitude (BSA) surveys found that the British public supports assisted dying.

  • 2010: 82% of the general public believe that a doctor should probably or definitely be allowed to end the life of a patient with a painful incurable disease at the patient’s request (1).
  • 2007: 80% agreed that a person with a terminal and painful illness from which they will die should be allowed an assisted death (2).

 

Religious people 

 

Analysis of the 2010 BSA revealed that the majority of religious people supported assisted dying.

  •  71% of religious people and 92% of non-religious people agreed that a doctor should probably or definitely be allowed to end the life of a patient with a painful incurable disease at the patient’s request (1)

Two 2013 YouGov surveys have found that the majority of religious people support a change in the law.

  • 62% of people who identified as belonging to a religion supported the legalisation of assisted dying for terminally ill adults with mental capacity. Only 18% were opposed. 78% of those who attended a place of worship once a month supported assisted dying, this falls slightly to 59% of those who attended several times a month. (3)
  • 64% of religious people thought the law should be changed to allow assistance under certain circumstances. Those who say they have “no religion” are most likely to support a change in the law. (4)

Disabled people

 

The 2007 British Social Attitudes survey found that disabled people are overwhelmingly supportive of assisted dying.

  •  75% of people with a disability believed that a person with a terminal and painful illness from which they will die should be allowed an assisted death (2)
  • Qualitative work which explored disabled people’s views on assisted dying found that the majority felt that assisted dying should be allowed for people with a terminal illness who have the mental capacity to make the decision themselves. Whilst people were largely positive about a change in the law for people with terminal illnesses, there was less consensus on what should be done for people with non-terminal conditions. (5)

     

Doctors

 

Research shows us that whilst the majority of doctors are opposed to assisted dying, at least a third are supportive and many are undecided. Religious belief and specialism influence their views.

  • Clive Seale found that 64% of doctors (palliative care specialists, GPs etc.) agreed and 34% disagreed that a person with an incurable and painful disease, from which they will die should not be allowed by law to end their life (6). Doctors who worked in palliative medicine where more likely to be opposed to assisted dying. This study used the same wording as that used in the 2007 BSA survey.
  • Lee et al found that 49% of GPs and consultants were opposed and 39% were in favour of a change in law to permit assisted dying (7).

 

References

 

(1) McAndrew S (2010) Religious faith and contemporary attitudes, in Park A, Curtice J, Thomson K, Phillips A, Clery E, Butt S (eds) British Social Attitudes: 2009-2010. The 26th Report London Sage: 87-113

(2) Clery E, McLean S, Phillips M (2007) Quickening death: the euthanasia debate, in Parks A, Curtice J, Thomson K, Phillips M and Johnson M (eds.) British Social Attitudes: the 23rd report – perspectives on a changing society London Sage: 35-54

(3) YouGov survey (2013)  commissioned by Inter-Faith leaders for Dignity in Dying

(4) YouGov survey (2013) commissioned for the Westminster Faith Debate

(5) Bazalgette L, Cheetham P (2011) Report to the Commission on Assisted Dying: Demos research with vulnerable groups Demos

(6) Seale (2009) Legalisation of euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide: survey of doctor’s attitudes Palliative Medicine 23: 205-12

(7) Lee W, Price A, Rayner L and Hotopf M (2009) Survey of doctors’ opinions of the legalisation of physician assisted suicide BMC Medical Ethics 10 (2) doi: 10.1186/1472-6939-10-2