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2,500 UK deaths per year are accelerated by doctors

Media statement

24th March 2009

2,500 UK deaths per year are accelerated by doctors

Information published in the Guardian’s article ‘Majority of doctors opposed to assisted suicide’ today states that research out tomorrow will show that one in 200 deaths, which accounts for approximately 2,500 deaths per year, are accelerated by doctors with the explicit intention of bringing about the patient’s death.

This British social attitudes survey of 4,000 doctors by Professor Clive Seale, from the Centre for Health Sciences, updates previous findings from 2004. Seale found that more than a third (35%) of doctors supports a change in the law to allow assisted dying for mentally competent, terminally ill adults at the end of their lives.

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying said:

“It is projected that between 650 and 800 people per year in the UK would choose to have an assisted death.[1] This level of doctors’ support would allow for assisted dying in the UK without any doctor needing to be involved in more than a couple of cases per year.

“The survey will further reveal that in 16.5% of cases, doctors used continuous deep sedation with patients at the end of life. This effectively means that patients are medicated to a state where they are in a coma for the last days or weeks of their lives. This figure is significantly higher than in other countries where assisted dying is legal. In the Netherlands continuous deep sedation is used in 8.5% of cases, and in Belgium in 2001 the figure was 8.3%. Given the rapid rise in the use of continuous deep sedation it?s important to know whether patients are requesting sedation and if sedation is being given with their consent.

“This research highlights the slippery slope we are currently on in this country where doctors are assisting patients to die without safeguards, and potentially without an explicit request from the patients, and makes clear the very real problem which needs to be addressed with a safeguarded UK assisted dying law.”

– Ends –

About Dignity in Dying:

  • Dignity in Dying is the leading organisation in the UK that advocates assisted dying for terminally ill patients.
  • Dignity in Dying has over 100,000 supporters and receives its funding entirely from donations from the public.
  • Opinion polls consistently show that at least 80% of the UK population support a change in the law on assisted dying.

Media Cont acts:

For all media enquiries, please cont act Jo Cartwright on 020 7479 7737 or at jo.cartwright@dignityindying.org.uk. Out of hours cont act 07725433025


[1] Based on the experience in Oregon, the Select Committee on The Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill