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Doctors' views presented in right-to-die debate

Debate about assisted dying, the right-to-die and physician-assisted suicide shows no sign of abating within the UK.

But without pioneering research by Brunel’s Professor Clive Seale, policy-makers would be making decisions without evidence of doctors’ true attitudes and practices when it comes to end-of-life care.

British social attitude surveys have repeatedly shown there is overwhelming public support (80%) for legislation to allow the right-to-die and there have been periodic attempts by individuals to have existing law re-interpreted by the courts and by politicians to introduce new legislation to allow medically-assisted dying.

But Prof Seale’s work involving postal surveys of nationally representative samples carried out in 2004 and 2008 proved unequivocally that UK physicians are, on the whole, opposed to the legalisation of assisted dying whether it be euthanasia or doctor-enabled assisted suicide.

The impact, however, does not stop there. The surveys recorded that one in 10 dying patients ask for a hastened death and that compared to other countries there is a high incidence of continuous deep sedation until death in the UK except where a doctor has personal religious beliefs.

With 60,000 dying patients each year asking for a speedier death the euthanasia debate is unlikely to fade into the background. And the place of religious belief in clinical practice especially in end-of-life care has significant implications for General Medical Council guidance to doctors.