29 June 2006
New research shows GPs have divided opinions over Assisted Dying and strongly support the BMA’s continuing its policy of neutrality
A new UK survey of 200 GPs by GFK Healthcare shows GPs remain divided about assisted dying. 30% of GPs would be willing, in principle, and if the law permitted, subject to a range of safeguards, to write a prescription to assist a patient to die, if their suffering could not be relieved by palliative care.
Placed in a terminally ill patient’s position and recognizing that palliative care cannot prevent all suffering, 43% of GPs would want the option of being able to ask a doctor to write a prescription for them. 60% of GPs generally support the BMA’s current “neutral” position on assisted dying legislation. The research comes on the day of the BMA’s vote on its policy position at its annual conference.
Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:
“The GFK survey shows doctors remain divided in their views, and strongly support the BMA’s neutral position. Only a position of neutrality coherently reflects the split views within the medical profession. Lord Warner, the Government Health Minister, said recently, “taking a neutral position on the Bill is not the same as doing nothing”.
Ms Annetts added,
“43% of GPs would want a choice if they were terminally ill themselves. 30% of doctors would be willing, in principle, and if the law permitted, to write a prescription at the request of a terminally ill, mentally competent patient whose suffering could not be relieved by palliative care, within proper safeguards. This equates to many more doctors willing to write prescriptions than the House of Lords recently suggested would request them.”
More than eight out of ten GPs (82%) accept that modern palliative care may not, in a small number of cases, prevent some terminally ill patients from suffering and wishing to receive help to die. Only 20% said they felt it is right for the BMA to reverse its policy after sustained pressure by the Christian Medical Fellowship.
13% of doctors surveyed declined to answer the question whether they had ever written a prescription they suspected may be used by a mentally competent, terminally ill patient to hasten their death, with 87% saying they had not. Half of them confess to have been nervous at some point about the possible consequences for their practice if they or a colleague found themselves in a situation where they consciously or inadvertently helped one of their terminally ill patients to die.
Ms Annetts added
“The results suggest that doctors are anxious about the consequences for their practices. We feel this nervousness about the medical professional’s role at the end of life is not healthy for the doctors or for patients. The law should support both so they are able to discuss openly all options at the end of life”.
GFK’s research was based on an online random sample of 200 UK GPs conducted in June 2006, commissioned by Dignity in Dying, and a link to its full research can be found from the Dignity in Dying website (http://www.dignityindying.org/).