Select Committee on Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill First Report



1.  This report summarises available research findings, mainly focused on the last 10 years or so, on the subject of attitudes to the legalisation of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide among the general public and the health sector.

2.  The findings should be treated with great caution. Very little research exists which is built on techniques appropriate for so complex and sensitive a subject as euthanasia and whether/how it should be legalised. Research sponsors frequently appear to have been more concerned to achieve statistics for media consumption than to work towards achieving a comprehensive understanding of public and health sector attitudes.

3.  Among the general public, research findings over many years suggest, at least at face value, that there is a widespread and growing concern to legalise the situation of the terminally ill who wish to die and those prepared to help them.

4.  Opposition to the legalisation of euthanasia/PAS is most readily linked to "religious" attitudes to life as sacred. The concept of passive euthanasia (withdrawal/withholding of treatment) appears as relatively uncontentious.

5.  The concept of Living Wills is generally supported in the small amount of mention given, though there is some feeling that doctors should not necessarily be obliged to follow them.

6.  Views on potential implications of legalising euthanasia/PAS, for specific groups of individuals and for society in general emerge only in occasional strands of research. There are suggestions that older people may become nervous of entering hospital and that those who are dependent on others may feel motivated to request euthanasia. There are marginal suggestions that trust in doctors and nurses may suffer some erosion.

7.  Disabled people's views are not clear from the sources which are less than adequate for the purpose and tend to be somewhat contradictory in their findings.

8.  Public involvement in decisions around the legalisation of euthanasia/PAS is requested strongly (referendum) in surveys in Isle of Man and Guernsey, but not explored elsewhere.

9.  Illegal euthanasia was also thought to sometimes occur by very many on these two islands, but the question does not feature in mainland research.

10.  Politicians' views of the legalisation of euthanasia/PAS appear to differ markedly from those of the general public, with only a diminishing minority in favour.

11.  Doctors also appear to be notably less in favour of legalising euthanasia than the general public. Variations in the format and in the quality of research into medical sector views make summary difficult. At "face value", the results suggest that support for legalising euthanasia is diminishing latterly, after expanding over a number of years.

12.  Euthanasia/PAS appears to be an area of difficulty and dilemma for doctors. Many have received requests to provide help but the data varies as to how many have helped patients wishing to die to do so. Most doctors appear to believe that the incidence of illegal euthanasia/PAS is small, but sources vary somewhat. There is some suggestion that those who have been asked to provide help to die are more open than others to the concept of legal reform. GPs appear generally to be more open to reform than hospital specialists.

13.   Geriatricians form the only specific medical group who appear, in one study, as strongly opposed to legal reform, principally because of potential pressure on old people to request euthanasia—and a sense that the social processes of dying and grieving might become undermined.

14.  Nurses' views are not very visible. A recent Nursing Times readership poll (for which satisfactory details were not available) suggested that 2:3 nurses would like euthanasia to be legalised.

15.  Pharmacists' views appear (from one limited study) to be largely in line with doctors—less than half were in favour of legalising PAS. The sample was split on whether they should/would willingly dispense drugs for suicide.

16.  The palliative care sector is represented in one qualitative study, which suggests that, although some support the concept of legalised euthanasia, there are many concerns about the potential impact on care and on relationships between doctors, carers and patients.

17.  The key conclusion of this report is that, although some idea of the basic attitude of the general public is available through research sources, this does not amount to an authentic picture of public opinion which is in any way comprehensive. Deliberative research techniques, unused so far for this subject, which can produce an account of informed public opinion, are recommended if a proper understanding of public opinion is to be achieved. This suggestion is also made with regard to the health sector, where much of the research carried out has been too limited in value to rely on for the purposes of informing decisions on the reform of current legislation.


The House of Lords Select Committee on the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill requested a survey to be carried out of any existing sources of information on public attitudes to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (PAS), including the attitudes of those in the health sector.

The objectives of the study were to:

  • identify what research had been carried out in recent years into public attitudes to euthanasia/PAS
  • to provide an account of the main findings as relevant to the Committee's purposes
  • as far as feasible, to examine each element of research and make a judgement as to its validity, relevance and usefulness for understanding public and health sector attitudes to the given topic

Some research sources were identified in advance by the Clerk to the Committee and others by COI Communications. Others became apparent in the course of following up initial sources and through internet searches. The Voluntary Euthanasia Society was particularly helpful in identifying relevant pieces of research, as was the Pro-life Alliance and a range of other individuals who had been involved in commissioning, carrying out or publicising specific research projects.

Note on terminology: In general, the concepts of "euthanasia"—active euthanasia, unless otherwise stated—and "physician-assisted suicide" are distinguished wherever the data allows. Only in some of the data are the two potential roles of the doctor distinguished—providing drugs/information for suicide or, at the patient's request, administering drugs calculated to kill. Essentially, the debate is about the concept of doctors helping very sick patients who wish to die, to do so at a time of the patient's choosing, and it is to this over-riding concept that the term "euthanasia" mainly refers when used without qualification.


A list of the main research sources consulted for this project appears as an appendix. These are numbered and are frequently referred to by number throughout the text.

Overall, there is not a great deal of reliable detailed guidance available as to attitudes to euthanasia/PAS, especially among the general public. Virtually all the studies identified are quantitative in nature, drawing upon a variety of sample sizes and types, some clearly more adequate than others. In general, both the questions posed and the analysis of the responses tend to be limited in scope. There is little evidence of the employment of in-depth exploratory research techniques such as would conventionally be used to provide an initial understanding, especially of complex, sensitive topics such as euthanasia/PAS, to guide survey design and fuel the understanding of quantitative results.

As a result, the quantitative techniques employed, which by definition are capable of providing breadth more than any depth of understanding, often tend to produce findings which at best may be considered one-dimensional. Simple, direct questions, placed without a proper explanatory context and with limited options for reply can sometimes produce results which may in fact be misleading.

Omnibus surveys, ongoing questionnaire surveys of nationally-representative samples, which can include a wide variety of topic areas, depending on the mix of clients at any given time, are used very widely in the sources consulted for this project. Omnibus surveys are particularly useful for simple issues such as consumer choices or, in social topics, where respondents can be assumed to have a broad understanding of the topic area and of the consequences implied by particular response options. Where these conditions cannot be assumed and, as with euthanasia, the issues are potentially complex and far-reaching, the omnibus may not be the ideal tool for providing understanding. This seems to be particularly the case with surveys of the general public, where an understanding of the potential impact of euthanasia/PAS legislation clearly cannot be assumed.

A relatively recent development in United Kingdom research techniques is the use of panels of respondents who are paid for their participation in omnibus surveys. (E.g., 9, 11, 12, 13, 23, 25). This practice tends to produce very high response rates, with hopefully no negative implications for the quality of the response.[83]

Additionally, other research techniques used in the sources, such as postal or web surveys, may produce some bias in the response to the degree that respondents may effectively be self-selecting. In theory, this can be particularly problematic with a topic such as euthanasia which tends to invite passionate responses from various directions.

This theme, of the limitations of much of the research considered in this report for the purposes of gaining a real understanding of attitudes to euthanasia, is continued in Section 5 Conclusions, where suggestions are made for building upon what is already achieved.



It is unfortunate that most of the research carried out into public attitudes to euthanasia lack significant depth and provide relatively one-dimensional results. As explained in Section 2, the research techniques which have mainly been employed have been those with the least capacity to deal with complex and sensitive issues such as euthanasia. In most cases, respondents were given only very limited options for response to relatively simple, direct questions without any context of explanation of what wider implications there might be from a change in the law for individuals and for society.

Nevertheless, it is evident that there is a great deal of sympathy within society, at least for the concept of euthanasia, and it seems likely that the level of sympathy has grown in recent years. Evidence for this can be drawn from numerous polls carried out over the last 20-30 years. A small number of them make some attempt to include some of the complexity of the subject within their questioning, but in general the issue of euthanasia is presented very simply. The key questions generally ask respondents their attitude to a change in the law which would favour those who:

  • Are terminally ill
  • Are in great pain
  • Have made it clear that they do not wish to continue living and
  • Need help to die

The questions posed and the overall responses are tabulated below, in rough chronological order.

1987 MORI Poll

The earliest survey for which detailed results were available is the 1987 MORI poll conducted as part of the regular MORI omnibus survey and sponsored by two organisations active in the Pro-life movement—Doctors Who Respect Human Life and the Human Rights Society.

The key question in this survey relating to basic attitudes to euthanasia was Q.2 of a total of 8:

I would like to ask you some questions about euthanasia. By euthanasia I mean when a doctor is allowed by law to terminate the life of a patient.

In Holland some doctors carry out euthanasia when their patients request it, by giving sedatives and injecting muscle relaxants so as to paralyse breathing. Some people have said the law in Britain should be changed so as to allow euthanasia in some circumstances as is done in Holland. Others believe the law should not be changed. Looking at this card, which of these options comes closest to your view?

Results (1808 respondents)
Euthanasia should be made legal in all cases when the patient requests it 23%
Euthanasia should be made legal only when a patient who requests it is suffering from a severe illness and is in a lot of pain 49%
The law should not be changed so as to allow euthanasia 19%
Don't know9%

The question presents respondents with what might be termed a fairly stark picture of the process of euthanasia "…to paralyse breathing" but nonetheless half the sample were sympathetic to physician-assisted death in circumstances of severe illness and great pain—and almost a quarter appeared to believe in euthanasia "on request". Only one in five stand out against the idea of legalising euthanasia. MORI comment with apparent justification that the survey as a whole indicates that "public opinion is somewhat more in favour of than opposed to the idea of legalising euthanasia in Britain" (1).

Again, it is important to repeat that even a survey as carefully constructed and objectively analysed as this one is, cannot be viewed as presenting more than a superficial view of public attitudes to euthanasia because of the limitations of the research technique employed. However, the survey has a broader scope than some in that it asks a number of questions relating to the possible implications of legalising euthanasia in terms of the impact on elderly patient attitudes to health care, and the potential role of relatives for patients no longer able to communicate etc.—which are covered separately below.

1984-1995 British Social Attitudes Survey

The British Social Attitudes Survey (BSA), from the National Centre for Social Research, is widely acknowledged as an important source of understanding of public attitudes with regard to a range of social, political and moral issues. For many years NatCen has contributed importantly to the development of methodologies and of standards within the field of social research. Unlike standard omnibus surveys, which tend to produce raw data for clients and at best a summary analysis of the main findings, BSA data is expertly analysed and findings are presented within a broad context of the general understanding of trends in public attitudes which is generated by the survey as a whole.

The BSA survey of public attitudes to euthanasia also differs from many others in at least one potentially important aspect—it is not commissioned by any outside organisation with a commitment to one side or other of the euthanasia debate. The funding of this element of BSA by the Nuffield Trust has no implications whatsoever for the objectivity of the coverage.

BSA (1995) claims that there is in the United Kingdom "widespread and increasing support for the legalisation of euthanasia- in certain circumstances". To the simple question -

Suppose a person has a painful incurable disease. Do you think that doctors should be allowed by law to end the patient's life, if the patient requests it?

- the overall trend in response is clear:
1984 19891994
% %%
Yes, the law should allow it75 7982
No, the law should not allow it24 2015
Base1562 12741000

BSA 1995 (fieldwork 1994/report 1995) focused upon euthanasia in greater depth than before and discovered that attitudes towards legalisation are more complex than the single question given above might be taken to suggest. Varying levels of support for euthanasia are expressed, linked to particular circumstances. Support is highest when the case involves an individual not expected to recover consciousness and on a life-support machine (86%) and in the case of an incurable and painful terminal illness, such as cancer (80%). Euthanasia for someone not expected to recover consciousness, but not on a life-support machine, reduces to 58% (in these cases, the support of relatives is assumed). 51% support the legalisation of euthanasia for those who become totally dependent on others, 44% for a non-painful terminal illness and 42% for a painful illness which is not terminal. Support for legalising euthanasia for any who are simply tired of living drops to 12%.

BSA proffers these findings more as indications of the complexity of the issues, rather than as definitive statements of public opinion. Complex processes of analysis of the survey findings reveal that there is, for example, no significant link between age and attitude to the legalisation of euthanasia, but there is a significant (negative) link with the practice of religion and with general attitudes to life as sacred, such as tend to be derived from religion. The survey concludes that the apparent trend towards the belief that euthanasia should be legalised in certain circumstances is part and parcel of a broad process of secularisation in western society—and as such, seems set to grow. It notes that neither of the "principled" approaches of those for or against legalising euthanasia—liberty of the individual/duty of the state to preserve life—adequately represents the more pragmatic approach taken by most individuals when asked to view the issue on a case by case basis.

1976-1993 NOP for the Voluntary Euthanasia Society

The following question was asked in four surveys within this period:

Some adults say that the law should allow adults to receive medical help to an immediate peaceful death if they suffer from an incurable physical illness that is intolerable to them, provided they have requested such help in writing. Please tell me whether you agree or disagree with this?

A simple "agree/disagree" response is required in the rather emotive context of the contrast drawn between an "intolerable" state of existence and the promise of an "immediate, peaceful, death" through "medical help". The question is not unfair but it seems to invite agreement more than disagreement. In four omnibus surveys over a period of 17 years, the question was answered as follows by a nationally representative sample of around 2000 individuals aged 15+:
Year% For % Against% Undecided
197669 1714
198572 218
198975 169
199379 1011

For the reasons given earlier, these results cannot be taken purely on "face value", nevertheless the apparent trend towards agreeing with the concept of legalising medical intervention for an assisted death cannot be dismissed, especially as it emerges in other surveys around this time, including the two surveys already quoted.

2002-2004 NOP for the Voluntary Euthanasia Society

More recent NOP omnibus surveys for VES ask the following question.

Do you think that a person who is suffering unbearably from a terminal illness should be allowed by law to receive medical help to die, if that is what they want, or should the law not allow them to receive this medical help to die?

Again, respondents are invited to respond simply Yes, No or Don't Know. In October 2002, this was the only question asked, but in July 2004, the question was one of seven. In both cases, the sample was significantly smaller than for the previous surveys (1000 and 790, respectively), indicating slightly lower levels of reliability, though this factor lacks significance in the context of the dominant number of respondents agreeing with the (first part of) the question.
Survey Date% Yes % No% Don't know
October 200281 127
July 200482 117

Again, high levels of sympathy are indicated for physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill who are "suffering unbearably" though, as before, these results provide no guarantee of public understanding in any depth of the issues involved.

Guernsey/Isle of Man 2004

Small sample omnibus research (500 respondents) was held for VES by NOP in Guernsey and Isle of Man at a point that the issue of euthanasia was current within the local parliaments. The key question intended to measure basic attitudes to euthanasia varied slightly in format between the two locations but effectively brought a confirmation that feelings on these islands are roughly similar to those expressed in mainland United Kingdom.


Do you think that a Guernsey resident who is suffering unbearably from a terminal illness should be allowed by Guernsey law to receive medical help to die, if this is what they want, or should the law not allow them to receive this medical help to die?
Don't know7%

Isle of Man

On the Isle of Man, it is a criminal offence to assist a person to commit suicide. Do you think this law should be changed so that assisting a person to commit suicide is no longer a criminal offence…
Under any circumstances? 7%
When that person is suffering from an incurable disease? 68%
Under no circumstances whatsoever21%
Don't know4%

'Straw polls'/reactions to the Diane Pretty case

A number of media polls have been held on the subject of euthanasia, mostly in the wake of the Diane Pretty case. These are less reliable as thermometers of public opinion even than conventional omnibus surveys, mainly because they are based on self-selecting audiences, and tend to use simplistic question formats, often with no response functions beyond Yes/No. Importantly, in relation to the Diane Pretty case, these polls functioned within the emotionally charged context of media coverage of that event. The results have tended to be even more strongly in favour of the legalisation of euthanasia than more conventional polls.

The Voluntary Euthanasia Society have publicised the following findings for 3 polls held between 20th and 26th August 2001:

Teletext poll

We asked you if you back a terminally ill woman's wishes to die without her husband facing prosecution.

Independent on Sunday

Diane Pretty, who suffers from motor neurone disease, began her legal battle last week to establish that her husband will not be prosecuted if he helps her to commit suicide. We asked: should people have the right to die when they choose?
BaseNot given

Sky Interactive Poll

Euthanasia: should it be legalised?

Heaven and Earth Show, September 26th 2004

A more recent media poll was held by the BBC Religion & Ethics programme The Heaven and Earth Show. In the wake of a discussion of the topic, viewers were invited to respond by email, text or phone to the question:

Should assisted suicide be made legal?

Again, only Yes or No answers were sought, with the following results:
BaseNot given

At best, these polls can be said to offer no challenge to a basic assumption in favour of the concept of legalising euthanasia as indicated in the various surveys detailed above. However their real value for gauging public opinion more meaningfully is perhaps best summed up by the series producer for the programme last quoted:

"This is no more than a straw poll, based on random input from viewers .There is no pretence that the sample is scientifically selected or in any way representative of public opinion as a whole"


Various issues linked to attitudes to euthanasia/physician-assisted suicide appear in the findings of specific surveys and any research results of interest for broadening the understanding of public attitudes to the legalisation of euthanasia/PAS are summed up here.

What differentiates those for from those against euthanasia?

In fact few of the surveys are able to throw much authoritative light on the socio-demographic make-up of the two "sides" of the euthanasia debate (as constructed by the general tendency to treat the topic on a simple basis of agreement/disagreement). The best source for providing some commentary upon apparent differences between the two "groups" remains the British Social Attitudes survey of 1994/95. This suggests that, at least at that time, opponents of the concept of euthanasia were inclined to be found among people who, relative to those in favour of euthanasia, tend to be:

  • Regular churchgoers
  • Ethnically mixed - those most in favour tend to be mainly white
  • Scottish (the only regional bias to emerge)
  • Able-bodied
  • Less educationally qualified
  • More committed to "sanctity of life" issues—anti-abortion/suicide/capital punishment (the last is the least sure)

Importantly, there appeared to be little or no link with age, gender or social class, nor with party political identity.

Attitudes of disabled people

There are three sources claiming some insight into attitudes of disabled people to euthanasia—(2), (10), (11). BSA (2) notes that disabled people are more pro-euthanasia than able-bodied people, but that this link is only significant among young disabled people. The link is interpreted in terms of a higher level of sympathy for pain and dependency, gained through personal experience.

A January 2003 survey for the Disability Rights Commission (10) was based on an in-house constructed web poll of 162 individuals, 56% of whom categorised themselves as disabled. The results suggest that disabled people are more concerned (than others are) for disabled people to be protected against discrimination in potentially end-of-life medical treatment—and less concerned (than others are) for euthanasia to be legalised for disabled people. The value of the survey is somewhat circumscribed both by the small size of the sample and the self-selecting nature of the research technique employed.

In November 2004, a YouGov omnibus survey for VES was answered by 2091 respondents, around a quarter of whom categorised themselves as disabled on the basis of a definition drawn from the Disability Discrimination Act[84]. The results suggest that disabled people support the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill as strongly as able-bodied people (80%) and also that, should euthanasia be legalised, they would continue to trust doctors as much as they do at present. Disabled people also appear to believe slightly more strongly than others that the law currently discriminates against terminally ill disabled people who wish to commit suicide but need assistance to do so. The results also suggest that disabled people are slightly more likely than others to believe that the Bill would improve society's view of disabled people.

The questions raised in this survey are both complex and sensitive and it can only be repeated that omnibus surveys are probably the least suitable research technique for gaining any depth of understanding of public attitudes to such topics, at least without the benefit of a previous stage of in-depth research to inform both the questioning and the interpretation of the results.

The potential impact of the legalisation of euthanasia.

Issues addressed at one point or another include:

  • Attitudes to 'passive' euthanasia
  • Levels of trust in doctors/the health service
  • Impact upon hospice services
  • Impact on 'vulnerable' patients
  • Trust in relatives
  • Need to take account of public opinion

Attitudes to 'passive' euthanasia

This issue is addressed once only, in a 1999 Capibus omnibus survey for First Do No Harm, a pro-life grouping of doctors. The single question (to 2042 respondents) is fairly emotively expressed and the results show the population to be strongly against the concept of a legal right to withhold food and fluid, but not massively so:

The British Medical Association says that doctors may withhold tube feeding and hydration from patients such as victims of a stroke, who are not dying but might be permanently disabled. This would make them die for lack of fluid. Some other doctors' groups disagree with the BMA. Do you think doctors should have a legal right to withhold food and fluid?
Should have a legal right 30%
Should not have a legal right56%
Don't know11%

Trust in doctors

Overall, trust in doctors appears likely to be marginally undermined by the legalisation of euthanasia, as exemplified by the responses to a direct question asked by VES in a YouGov omnibus survey (1574 respondents) of October 2004:

If the law were changed to allow, within strict guidelines, a terminally ill adult who was suffering unbearably to ask for and receive medication to end their life at a time of their choosing from their doctor, overall would you trust doctors…
The same70%
Don't know11%

A similar question concerning nurses suggested a similarly high level of trust but one which was slightly more likely to be eroded in the event of legalised euthanasia.

87% of the sample of 500 inhabitants of Guernsey (5) felt they would still trust their doctor if assisted dying were made legal. The latest VES/YouGov survey (11) produced the following result:

If this Bill were to become law, would you trust your doctor...
Same amount77%
Don't know8%

Perhaps unsurprisingly, in one survey (7), doctors are the lead choice for assistance to die legally, though not overwhelmingly so:

If it were legal to ask for and receive assistance to die, who would you ask to help you?
None of these8%
Don't know7%

There is some evidence (1) (in 1987) of a general reluctance to oblige doctors to carry out (legalised) euthanasia as part of their contract—only 31% of 902 respondents felt they should, against 52% who disagreed.

Fear of hospitals

The last quoted survey also suggested that many people (60%) feel that elderly people in particular might be more nervous of going into hospital if euthanasia were legalised.

Living wills

The issue of living wills is addressed only in the British Social Attitudes survey (1) and is mentioned here as it is contingent to attitudes to doctors, in the case of euthanasia being legalised. The survey showed broad approval for the concept of living wills and 1:4 respondents felt that doctors should be allowed to act on them and end a patient's life if so requested. However, a somewhat lower proportion (62%) felt that doctors should be obliged to do so.

Impact on hospice services

This issue was raised only in the Isle of Man where response appears to suggest that 3:4 do not think that a change in the law on euthanasia will damage the work currently done by the Isle of Man Hospice. However, not inconsiderable minorities, particularly of older people, feel either that it might—16/20% (total/55+) or that they cannot judge (11/16%).

Impact on 'vulnerable' people

The 1987 MORI survey (1) suggests that a large majority (71% - only 12% disagreeing) believe that people permanently dependent on others for medical or nursing care might request euthanasia in order not to be a burden on others. The question (3c) appears to hypothesise euthanasia on request but nevertheless the weight of agreement seems interesting.

Trust in relatives

The same survey (1) suggests that there is a fairly widespread disinclination to trust next of kin to request euthanasia for patients who are unable to communicate—31% believed this should be permitted, but 47% did not.

Consulting the public

Only in the two off-shore surveys (Isle of Man and Guernsey (5,6)) is the issue raised of how agreement should be reached about changing the law on euthanasia. It may be that the results of this question are mainly pertinent to the two locations, but the suggestion is introduced that the issue of euthanasia legislation requires an important level of input from the general public and not just from politicians. In both cases, around 4:5 respondents chose a referendum as a means of deciding whether assisted dying should be made legal—against a decision being achieved by politicians in the normal way any Bill is voted on.

Action in the absence of new legislation

The latest NOP/VES survey (7, July 2004) suggests that an important proportion of the population might be prepared to break the law to help someone else to die (47%) or would like someone else to help them to do so (51%), in the case of a terminal illness and unbearable suffering. A similar proportion (50%) felt that in these circumstances they would consider going abroad to receive assistance to die, to a country where this was legal—a proportion which was replicated in Guernsey.

However, in the case of a change in the law, inhabitants of the Isle of Man were fairly strongly against allowing the island to become a refuge for those from countries where euthanasia is illegal.

Is euthanasia currently practised - illegally?

This question has not been asked of the general public on mainland United Kingdom but when it was raised in Guernsey and the Isle of Man (5) (6) the results appear to demonstrate a widespread belief that euthanasia is already a fact of life.

Do you think that euthanasia is already sometimes practised, on terminally ill patients in the final stages of illness, as an act of mercy?
Guernsey % Isle of Man %
Yes68 71
No12 11
Don't know21 17


Two surveys of Members of Parliament, 1995 and 2004, (12, 13) both suggest that attitudes to the legalisation of euthanasia among MPs is the reverse of what appears to be the case with the general public.

In 1995, 70% of MPs opposed (and 27% supported) the principle of voluntary euthanasia, where a patient is terminally ill, subject to detailed legislative safeguards.

In 2004, 79% opposed and only 21% supported the principle of a Bill to legalise voluntary euthanasia. In the earlier survey, Labour MPs were rather more supportive of the proposition than their Conservative colleagues, but both parties were similar in attitude in the second survey.

Both surveys were said to produce results largely similar to those of surveys carried out in 1992 and 1994.

The earlier survey was based on telephone interviews with 151 MPs and in 2004, 100 MPs emailed their responses. In both cases, the sample represented the composition of the House of Commons in terms of party affiliation. The first survey was carried out for the House Magazine and the more recent one for the Pro-life Alliance.

The reasons for the apparent gulf in attitude between MPs and those they represent can only be speculated upon at this point, a process which lies beyond the capacity of this report. However, an obvious factor of difference could be that MPs, by definition, are more accustomed than most to taking into account the implications for society as a whole of proposed legal reforms, as a separate issue to their personal feelings on the subject.



In general

The views of the medical profession are expressed through a number of surveys which, as with the surveys of the general public considered in Section 3, vary importantly in quality and in scope. However, the overall picture of doctors' attitudes to euthanasia is more complex than that of the general public. At the same time, the data generally enjoys a higher level of credibility, on the assumption that medical practitioners can be assumed to have at least some direct experience of end-of-life conditions and therefore to be able to answer questions more meaningfully on this basis than others. In this sense, the review of medical feelings about euthanasia is a more straightforward undertaking than that of the general public.

Euthanasia is clearly a subject which presents very many doctors with profound professional and personal dilemmas and overall tends to split the profession between those more and less generally in favour of a change in the law. It seems likely that medical professionals view the issue of the legalisation of euthanasia as less straightforward than the lay public as a whole because of their direct experience of working with patients and there is some evidence to suggest that the closer the experience of end-of-life patients, the less sure professionals are about the prospect of a change of the law in favour of euthanasia. Some of the evidence also suggests that, over time, doctors may have become generally less favourable to the concept of legal reform.

Significant differences exist in the quality of the available research information—which ranges from rapid 'dip-stick' media-sponsored surveys of the profession through to university-based academic studies and inevitably includes an important number of studies commissioned by organisations with a dedicated interest in the concept of a change in the law related to euthanasia. The evidence is therefore best considered on a piecemeal basis, with some attempt at chronology.

1987: NOP telephone survey of 301 GPs for Voluntary Euthanasia Society. (14)

The sample is small but was selected to 'broadly represent' all NHS GPs throughout Britain, excluding vocational trainees.

The results of this survey appear to typify the dilemma of euthanasia for medical professionals—and the contrast with lay public opinion.

59% of the sample disagreed with the concept of changing the law in favour of voluntary euthanasia - 39% disagreed 'strongly'. The proportion in favour of change totalled 30%, only one third of these agreeing 'strongly'. 9% of the sample claimed to hold 'mixed views'.

NOP pointed to the contrast with a recent (1985) study of the public (sample 1712) which asked the identical question[85] and in which 72% of respondents declared themselves in favour of the suggested change.

The dilemma of euthanasia, for doctors, is perhaps also evident in the difference between attitudes to the concept of euthanasia and what doctors might do in practice, were the law to change.

At the moment, euthanasia is illegal. Suppose the law was changed to permit voluntary euthanasia and there was a patient on your list whose case you knew well, who suffered from an incurable physical illness that was intolerable to them. If that patient made a signed request that you end his/her life, would you consider doing so or not?
Yes, considerPerhaps possibly No - would not
35%10% 53%

Base 301

Clearly, rather more GPs were prepared to consider euthanasia in certain circumstances (45%) than had stated that they were in favour of the concept of euthanasia (30%).

Male GPs appeared to be more favourable to the concept of legalised euthanasia than females and in general, attitudes tended to correlate negatively with age, but the small base of the study limits confidence in this level of analysis.

1993: Attitudes among NHS doctors to requests for euthanasia. Ward & Tate, Dept of Anatomy, Cambridge University (15)

This survey was based on anonymous postal responses from 312 GPs and hospital consultants (in roughly equal proportions) within one area of England. The intention was to explore NHS doctors' attitudes to 'competent' patients' requests for euthanasia and to estimate the proportion of doctors who have taken active steps to hasten a patient's death. The base of the sample tends to vary as not all respondents answered each question. It is an important study, apparently carried out with sensitivity and a high level of concern for objectivity and for methodological rigour within the bounds of the relatively small sample.

The key findings are that:

  • 60% of doctors had been asked at some point by a patient to hasten their death—64% of GPs and 52% of consultants
  • 51% of GPs and 36% of consultants had been asked to provide active euthanasia, as opposed to passive euthanasia by withholding or withdrawing treatment
  • 1:3 of a sub-sample of 119 doctors (of which 83 were GPs) had taken active steps to bring about the death of a patient. The research suggests that, for whatever reason, GPs are more inclined than hospital consultants to comply with a request for active euthanasia
  • The great bulk of doctors (88% of GPs and 95% of consultants) stated that in some circumstances they would be prepared to practice passive euthanasia[86]

In this context, views of whether the United Kingdom law on euthanasia should be changed to become similar to the Dutch law are perhaps not surprising. Significantly more agreed than disagreed with the proposition, as follows:

In the Netherlands, doctors are now virtually certain to avoid prosecution if they end the life of a patient, provided:

  • This is the patient's well-considered wish
  • The patient has an irreversible condition causing protracted physical or mental suffering which he or she finds unbearable
  • There is no reasonable alternative (from the patient's point of view)to alleviate the suffering
  • The doctor has consulted another professional who agrees with his or her judgement

Do you think a similar situation should exist in Britain?
Response% GPs

(Base 169)

% Consultants

(Base 140)

% Total

(Base 309)

Strongly agree15 1515
Agree33 3132
Undecided23 1519
Disagree19 2723
Strongly disagree10 1110

46% of this sample (51% of GPs and 40% of consultants) stated that they would personally be prepared to consider practising euthanasia, if asked to by competent patients—a total of 32% would not.

Attitudes to euthanasia were consistent throughout the responses to the specific questions on the subject, showing that doctors either supported euthanasia or rejected it. However, practice could sometimes be at variance with belief (most notably among those with religious beliefs, who tended to reject the concept of legalising euthanasia but had sometimes practised active euthanasia)—implying, in the words of the study, 'painful personal dilemmas' experienced by some doctors.

Addendum: GPs v Hospital Specialists

The suggestion running through the results of the study quoted above, that GPs tend to be more open than hospital consultants to changing the law in favour of euthanasia, appears to receive some confirmation from a study for VES of around 2000, only some details of which are clear (22). This study concluded from a sample of 554 GPs and 398 hospital specialists that GPs are significantly more in favour of a change in the law than hospital specialists (Oregon provided the role model for change on this occasion) and more willing to consider practicing active euthanasia.

1995: Doctor magazine omnibus survey of 2150 doctors, mix of GPs and hospital specialists. (17)

This survey continued the suggestion that the medical profession was split in its attitude to legalising euthanasia. Key findings were:

  • 44% supported legal reform against 53% who rejected it
  • Within the previous year, 57% of doctors had been asked by patients and sometimes relatives/friends of patients to practice one form or other of euthanasia
  • If active euthanasia were legal, 43% - slightly more GPs than hospital doctors—would consider it
  • Around 80% of doctors (including religious believers) saw passive euthanasia as an accepted part of medical practice

1996: BMA News Review survey of 750 general practitioners (18)

Overall, the results appear roughly similar in stance to previous studies of GPs, though there are differences of detail:

  • 46% of GPs supported and 44% rejected legal reform
  • If it were legal, 37% would consider active euthanasia for terminally ill patients—only a small number admitted to having practiced it
  • 92% felt that passive euthanasia could sometimes be justified
  • 75% felt they would respect a refusal of treatment required by a living will

1996: Survey of Medical Practitioners' Attitudes towards Physician-Assisted Suicide. Study by Professor MacLean on basis of omnibus survey of 1000 respondents, mainly a range of doctors but including 180 pharmacists (19)

Key findings were:

  • 1:5 believed suicide was never justifiable and 1:4 felt it was justified simply by wishing it. 1:2 felt suicide was justifiable on the basis of a terminal condition and/or extreme physical/mental suffering
  • 65% were in favour of a change in the law, including 10% who believed in 'euthanasia on demand' i.e. no other conditions. Again, the bulk of respondents stressed the importance of patients having a terminal condition and/or experiencing extreme physical/mental suffering
  • Significantly less practitioners would be willing to assist suicide if this were legal—53% in total, including 7% requiring only the wish of the patient
  • 28% had been asked to provide the means for patients to kill themselves
  • 4% admitted to having provided the means for patients to kill themselves and 93% claimed never to have done so. However, 12% claimed to know other health professionals who had assisted a patient to kill themselves

Importantly, this study distinguishes physician-assisted suicide from euthanasia—43% were in agreement with the former, in comparison to only 19% in favour of active euthanasia. This was interpreted in the commentary as possibly reflecting a reluctance to take full responsibility for the implications of euthanasia.

Also, reasons given for and against PAS were prioritised for salience by the respondents. The top reasons in favour of PAS were:

  • The duty of doctors to relieve suffering (60%)
  • People suffer intolerable and incurable conditions (59%)

Principal reasons against PAS were:

  • Problems in judging when suffering is sufficient to justify PAS (53%)
  • Many who feel suicidal later regret those feelings (50%)
  • It is the duty of doctors to preserve life, not end it (32%)

1998: Sunday Times survey of 300 GPs (20)

The findings of this rapid media survey are interesting in that levels of involvement in active euthanasia are distinguished. Full details of the study are not available. Key findings, as presented by the paper, were:

  • 1:7 of the respondents had 'helped patients to die' at their request
  • 60% felt that they should be allowed to administer large amounts of painkillers even if this shortens life
  • 18% felt they should be able to prescribe lethal medication for patients to commit suicide

1998: National Survey of Psychiatrists' attitudes to euthanasia, University Department of Psychiatry, Royal Free Hospital, London. Postal questionnaire survey of 322 senior psychiatrists. (26)

Only brief details are available for this study, the first among United Kingdom psychiatrists to explore attitudes to assisted suicide. Attitudes tended to be slightly more conservative than those found among other medical professionals up to this point. The key findings included the following:

  • 38% of psychiatrists believed euthanasia should be legalised—against 44% who did not
  • 35% were willing to assess psychological suitability for euthanasia (against 47% who preferred not to)
  • 86% accepted that suicide can be rational; however, 2:3 felt that a psychiatric assessment should be made of all individuals requesting euthanasia
  • 83% felt that passive euthanasia could be justified, but only 29% felt this of voluntary active euthanasia and 40% of assisted suicide—only 1:5 stated a willingness to assist suicide
  • Living wills were acceptable to 36% and not acceptable to 40% as a basis for assisting non-competent patients to commit suicide.

1999: TNS Omnimed survey of 104 GPs, sponsor unknown. (21)

This survey was very limited in scope and relatively few details are given. The findings as given include the following:

  • 2:3 favour euthanasia in certain situations and believe this to be generally the case with their colleagues
  • 1:3 are 'very opposed' to euthanasia under any circumstance
  • 1:2 had discussed the subject of euthanasia with colleagues
  • 3:5 'knew of' patients who had made living wills
  • 2:3 felt that potential legislation into euthanasia should be further investigated

1999: United Kingdom Geriatricians attitudes to active voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted death. Universities of Sheffield and Charleston, South Carolina. (27) 333 respondents in a postal survey of all United Kingdom geriatricians (45% response)

This study was carried out by the Academic Palliative Medicine Unit of the Sheffield Institute for Studies on Ageing and formed part of an ongoing longitudinal study based on the Department of Sociology at Charleston University. The study was said to be neutral in orientation, though an underlying concern was to respond to what was seen as a 'push' towards euthanasia in society.

In fact, the responses made in this study are in some contrast to the general thrust of other medical opinions up to this point. Key findings are that United Kingdom geriatricians, as represented by the sample of 45% of their number, tend to believe that:

  • Active euthanasia: Administering an overdose primarily intended to end a patient's life can never be justified ethically (80%)
  • However, 23% felt it should be legal in some circumstances
  • PAS through prescription or counselling can never be justified ethically (68%)—24% felt, however, that it should be legal in some circumstances
  • Only 12% and 13% respectively felt that they would personally practice active euthanasia or PAS in some circumstances

The study offers no explanation for the contrast between these views and the general trend of medical feeling about these topics. It may be that respondents are influenced by their high level of familiarity with patients in end-of-life situations. The principal reasons given for not wanting euthanasia/PAS to be legalised were stated as:

  • A belief that legalisation might put pressure on vulnerable patients to request euthanasia/PAS (84%)
  • A fear that the social process of dying and grieving may become undermined (53%)

Two thirds of the small minority who favoured legalisation of euthanasia/PAS did so as specific legal guidelines 'might help prevent abuses'. Other majority reasons given by this small group included:

  • Respect for patient self-determination
  • To prevent an unacceptable deterioration of the quality of life

The study did not include an exploration of attitudes to passive euthanasia.

2003: Hospital Doctor auto-response survey of 3000 doctors.

Only bare details are available of this readership-based study carried out in association with the Nuffield Trust. The study claims that doctors' attitudes are hardening against the legalisation of euthanasia, on a basis of a reduction in support noted between this study and a similar study carried out in 1994—38% against 44%.

2003: Survey on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, Opinion Research Business for Right to Life. (24) An internet omnibus study carried out by Doctors.Net.UK. 986 respondents, 2:3 of whom were GPs and the rest a spread of hospital specialists, with some bias towards psychiatry (13%).

A permanent panel of respondents is regularly invited to answer questions posted on the Doctors.Net web-site. As with the last quoted study, this survey claims that the majority of doctors are not in favour of either euthanasia or assisted suicide. In this respect the key questions were:

As a doctor are you in favour of either of the following?
Euthanasia % Assisted Suicide %
Yes22 25
No61 60
Don't know14 13

If these actions were made legal, would you be prepared to perform any of the following?
Euthanasia % Assisted Suicide %
Yes23 26
No76 74
No reply1 0

Pressure from relatives, beneficiaries and medical and nursing colleagues

If these actions were made legal, would you be confident that you would be able to exercise your judgement free from pressure from:

  • Relatives?
  • Beneficiaries?
  • Medical and nursing colleagues?
Freedom from pressure from: RelativesBeneficiaries Medical/nursing colleagues
Yes>%29 5828
No>%47 2943
Don't know>%24 1228

Doctors interviewed showed high levels of concern about the potential influence on their freedom to exercise their judgement of relatives and colleagues in any new legalised situation. The sample as a whole were not very concerned that consideration of NHS resources would influence their judgement. Those willing to carry out euthanasia or assisted suicide were generally less concerned about these sorts of pressures.

Most of the total sample (59%) felt that the BMA should not change its opposition to the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide though, unsurprisingly, the majority (75%) of those willing to practise them would counsel change. A similar divergence of opinion was evident on the issue of whether safe bounds can be set on euthanasia—only 56% of the total sample believed so, against 80% of the stated minority.

Two thirds of the sample were confident that they would be able to detect whether a request for assisted suicide was part of a depressive illness, suggesting that this could be an area of some concern for an important minority.

A high proportion of the total sample felt that increased resources for hospice (66%) and geriatric (55%) care would be likely to reduce the pressure towards the legalisation of euthanasia/assisted suicide.


This study suggests that medical opinion is now less split than a few years ago on the issue of legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide and that concerns about the potential implications of legalisation may be growing.

2003/4: Medix web-based omnibus surveys for Voluntary Euthanasia Society (January 2003 and August 2004)1000 respondents

These studies are carried out among a permanent panel of doctors who are remunerated for responding to questionnaires which are posted on the web-site.

The two studies, roughly a year and a half apart have sufficient common elements to be compared. The key findings are summarised below.

  • In 2003, 33% of doctors believed the law should be changed in favour of physician-assisted suicide (48% were against and 19% unsure). The direct question was not asked in 2004.
  • The results of a question on the circumstances for permitting PAS appearing in both years could be interpreted to suggest a waning of support for the legalisation of PAS, i.e.:

Circumstances for permitting PAS
2003 % 2004 %
No circumstances39 42
Terminal illness with uncontrollable physical suffering* 5545
When a terminally ill patient wishes it 2620
Severe physical suffering, even without terminal illness 2215
When a patient wishes it3 2

Similarly, a question about the circumstances for permitting physician-assisted euthanasia, i.e. direct help to die, produced results which could also be interpreted as marking a lessening of support for euthanasia among doctors. The key categories were:
2003 % 2004 %
No circumstances44 53
Terminal illness with uncontrollable physical suffering[87] 5037
When a terminally ill patient wishes it 2214
When a patient wishes it2 1

The 2004 sample appeared to have less experience of patient requests for assisted suicide or euthanasia than the earlier sample, a factor which may throw some light on their generally more conservative approach to the concept of legalising euthanasia.

Have you ever been asked by a patient to assist in their suicide or euthanasia?
2003 % 2004 %
Yes40 27
No57 70

Frequency of assisted suicide/euthanasia

The 2003 survey established that around 80% of doctors thought that both practices are rare or fairly rare. In 2004, it was established that 45% of doctors believed that some health professionals do sometimes assist the suicide/voluntary euthanasia of their terminally ill patients—an equal proportion could not say.

A separate question in 2004 supported these last findings, suggesting that 1:2 doctors believe that there are circumstances where some health professionals in the United Kingdom currently give pain relief to terminally ill patients with the intention of shortening their life.

Frequency of suicide/suicidal feelings among terminally ill patients

Questions in both years to establish how many patients with an untreatable and debilitating long-term or terminal illness (2004 just terminal illness) attempt/commit suicide—and (in 2003) what proportion of those attempting suicide worsened their health in the process, achieved little response.

Somewhat similarly, a question in 2003 aimed at measuring the level of seriously ill patient statements of a preference to die rather than live brought results suggesting that for the great bulk of doctors, this is at most, an occasional rather than a common experience.


In 2004, doctors were asked what safeguards should be put in place for terminally ill patients requiring assisted suicide/euthanasia and the doctors prepared to help them. Of the two options offered, the concept of legislation with safeguards and guidelines proved much more attractive than that of a criminal law prohibiting the practices, though over 1:5 were unable to reply.

Influence of religious belief upon attitudes to euthanasia

Some link between religious belief and attitudes to issues around euthanasia was established among the general public, most notably in the British Social Attitudes survey. Interestingly, a direct question in the later Medix survey for VES asking whether respondents believe that their attitudes on these topics are influenced by religious belief, revealed that this was in fact the case, at least to a small extent, in the judgement of 41% of the 1000 doctors interviewed. This factor too may hold some relevance to the apparent differences in attitudes between the two samples, but unfortunately it was not measured in 2003—nor in any of the other surveys quoted above which contribute to the sense of a withdrawal of medical profession support for euthanasia.

Summary of doctor attitudes up to the present

The attitudes of doctors to euthanasia are not easy to summarise accurately as different surveys approach the subject in different ways and the nature and value of each exercise must be borne in mind when interpreting the results. However, there seems to be some value in focusing on two key aspects of the debate which are measured more or less directly in most of the surveys which have come to light. These are:

  • Attitudes to legal reform in favour of euthanasia/PAS
  • Levels of willingness to practice euthanasia/PAS, should it be legalised.

For the purposes of creating a meaningful and helpful summary, the concepts of physician-assisted suicide and physician-assisted euthanasia are mainly not distinguished—attitudes to each tend to be broadly similar. Passive euthanasia, about which there is relatively little debate, is not considered here. References are included to the surveys as listed in the appendix. It was not possible to include all and maintain a satisfactory consistency of meaning.

Attitudes of doctors to the legalisation of euthanasia 1987-2004
YearRef. % For% Against Comment
1987(14) 3059 Small sample (301)
1993(15) 4733 Competent, but small in scale
1995(17) 4453 Self-selecting media survey
1996(18) 4644 Self-selecting media survey
1996(19) 6530 'Willing to assist suicide, if legal'

Some pharmacists in the sample.

1998(20) Notclear Small scale media poll - 18% felt they should be able to prescribe lethal medication for suicide legally
1998(26) 3341 Psychiatrists only
1999(21) 6633 Details unclear, no grey areas allowed for
1999(27) 23/4n/a Geriatricians
2003(23) 3348 Self-selecting web poll for VES
2003(16) 38n/a Self-selecting media poll
2003(24) 22/2560/61 Self-selecting web survey for Right to Life
2004(25) Notcomparable Self-selecting web poll for VES. Generally more conservative than similar poll in 2003 (23)



Auto-response readership surveys were held by Nursing Times in 1988 and 2003, achieving 1000 and 2700 responses respectively.

The results for 1988 are not easily related to the main theme of this report and mainly communicate a high level of sympathy for patients with pain and a sense of division in the profession concerning willingness to be involved in administering drugs which will kill a terminally ill patient at their request—44% were willing and 55% declared themselves unwilling.

The 2003 survey relates more readily to the theme of this report but few details have been made available. The main claim of the journal is that "two thirds" of the nurses responding to the questionnaire believed that euthanasia should be legalised—and that 31% believed that nurses should be allowed to assist in the suicide of patients.


A 1998 postal questionnaire survey of 169 pharmacists by the Universities of Bristol and Manchester mainly explored pharmacists' attitudes to becoming involved in physician-assisted suicide through dispensing the required drugs. Key findings are:

  • 70% believe that it is a patient's right to choose to die
  • 57% agree a patient should be able to involve his/her doctor in the process
  • 45% believed that it was right for such patients to use prescription medicines for suicide
  • 54% felt it is appropriate for pharmacists to refuse to dispense a prescription to be used in PAS (89% felt the conscience clause of the RPSGB code of ethics should incorporate this)—but 49% said they would willingly dispense such a prescription (24% would not)
  • 44% felt the law should be changed to allow for PAS 33% disagreed) and 52% that legislative change is required primarily to regulate PAS

Palliative Care Staff

The findings of 2004 qualitative research among a range of palliative care staff have been submitted separately to the Select Committee by Help the Hospices.

The research is small in scale but appears adequate to provide a useful commentary upon the views of euthanasia held by those working in the sector. It is not easily related to the main theme of this report, despite attempts to express the findings through quantification. The great value of the research appears to be in throwing some light upon the implications of a change in the law in favour of euthanasia for end-of-life patients and for those in their care. It brings a closeness to the 'reality' of euthanasia which is beyond the reach of quantitative research.

Despite evident and well-informed sympathy for the pain felt by terminally ill patients, it is clear that the introduction of legalised euthanasia would be very contentious within the hospice movement. Legalised euthanasia was seen as capable of changing the ethos of hospice care for the worse and of eroding the relationship of trust between physicians, carers and patients. It was also seen as in danger of serving to reduce the focus on hospice/palliative care. For many reasons, it was felt to be difficult to accurately assess a terminal patient's psychological condition and fitness for choosing euthanasia. Some were clearly open to the concept of euthanasia, but it was also clear that many professionals/carers would have ethical and other personal difficulties related to any requirement for involvement in the practice of euthanasia.


The research carried out up to this point into public and health sector attitudes to the legalisation of euthanasia is limited in value and cannot be accepted at face value as an authentic account of opinion within the United Kingdom. The subject matter is extremely complex and sensitive and therefore very challenging for any attempting to gain a meaningful understanding of opinion.

Public opinion

This is particularly the case with regard to the attitudes of the general public, whose real views on euthanasia are clearly obscured by a lack of information on the subject and by the lack of opportunity to reflect in an informed way upon the implications of any change in the law for themselves and for society. The levels of agreement/disagreement with the concept of euthanasia which the numerous polls record are effectively built on what might be termed a "knee-jerk" reaction to the simple options provided by these polls and do not form a very useful guide to public opinion as support for legislative change.

Nevertheless, the apparent groundswell in public agreement with the concept of euthanasia registered by the various sources cannot be dismissed and it is evident that there is much sympathy at a personal level for the concept of legally releasing those wishing to die from their pain and those willing to help them from legal consequences. However, if the decisions of the Committee are to take authentic account of properly informed public opinion, a significant investment in more appropriate forms of research is undoubtedly required.

Deliberative research

Latterly, government is accustomed to exploring public opinion on difficult and complex topics through various forms of deliberative research Recent examples include studies of public attitudes to the management of radioactive waste and to the commercialisation of GM crops, carried out at part of an attempt at public consultation on these complex and difficult subjects. Various techniques exist for this, including deliberative polls, citizen juries, reconvened focus groups etc., each aimed at achieving an authentic response such as is only available on a basis of information.

Only research of this sort is capable of providing a satisfactory understanding of public attitudes to the legalisation of euthanasia/PAS and of quantifying it meaningfully.

Health Sector

As remarked in the body of this report, health sector professionals tend by definition to be better informed about the context and potential implications of the legalisation of euthanasia, but here again most research is superficial in coverage and only a few attempts have been made to understand the basis of the opinions of doctors and others, which, from the data, appear to vary in different directions over time. Here too, some fresh, impartial research, again of a deliberative nature, is required in order to gain a full and useful understanding of health sector views.


1.  MORI omnibus poll December 1987, for Doctors Who Respect Human Life/Human Rights Society. 4 questions to 1808 adult respondents nationwide.

2.  British Social Attitudes 1994/95, National Centre for Social Research. The BSA has been run annually since 1983 to measure the attitudes, values and beliefs of the British public, covering an extensive number of complex social, political and moral issues. Euthanasia was included in 1984, 1989 and then in much greater depth in 1994/95, based then on a sample of 1234 adults. The subject is likely to be included in BSA 2005 also.

3.  1999 Capibus omnibus, 2042 respondents, single question on doctors' right to withhold food/fluid, for First Do No Harm, an organisation of doctors concerned about a perceived climate in favour of euthanasia

4.  NOP omnibus survey of UK, October 2002 for Voluntary Euthanasia Society. Single question, 1000 respondents aged 18+.

5.  NOP omnibus Survey of Guernsey 2004, for Voluntary Euthanasia Society. 5 questions, sample of 500 adults.

6.  NOP omnibus survey of Isle of Man, 2004 for Voluntary Euthanasia Society. 5 questions, sample of 500 adults.

7.  NOP omnibus survey of UK, July 2004, for Voluntary Euthanasia Society. 7 questions, sample of 790 aged 18+.

8.  BBC Heaven and Earth programme, September 2004. A single question put to viewers for immediate email/text/phone response.

9.  YouGov omnibus survey of UK October 2004, for Voluntary Euthanasia Society. 2 questions to sample of 1584 adults.

10.  Disability Rights Commission Web Poll January 2003. 4 questions, 162 respondents, 56% of whom were disabled.

11.  YouGov omnibus survey of November 2004. 2072 respondents, focus on disability issues.

12.  Harris Political Research Unit Parliamentary Panel/The House Magazine. Poll of 151 MPs broadly representative of the party composition of the House of Commons, July 1995.

13.  Communicate Research Parliamentary Panel, September 2004, for Prolife Alliance. A web poll of 100 MPs broadly representative of the House of Commons in party terms.

14.  NOP telephone survey for VES of 301 GPs, drawn from Medical Direct Mail Organisation mailing list 1987. Two questions to measure support for euthanasia.

15.  Attitudes among NHS doctors to requests for euthanasia, 1993. Ward & Tate, Department of Anatomy, Cambridge University. 312 postal questionnaires from a mix of GPs and a broad range of hospital doctors in one (unstated) area of England.

16.  Hospital Doctor survey of 3000 doctors, funded by Nuffield Trust 2003, repeat of similar study carried out in 1994.

17.  Doctor survey of 2150 GPs and hospital doctors nationwide 1995.

18.  BMA News Review survey of 750 doctors 1996.

19.  Survey of Medical Practitioners' attitudes towards physician assisted suicide 1996. Omnibus by System Three (Scotland) for Professor Sheila MacLean, Medical Law Unit, University of Glasgow. Formed basis of book by Sheila MacLean 'Sometimes a small victory'.

20.  Sunday Times survey of 300 doctors, November 1998.

21.  TNS Omnimed face-to-face questionnaire survey of 104 GPs October 1999 for BMA.

22.  Differences in attitudes towards physician-assisted suicide between GPs and hospital specialists. Date uncertain—around 2000—4-question survey of 1025 doctors for VES.

23.  Assisted suicide and euthanasia, Medix web survey of 1002 doctors, January 2003, for VES.

24.  Survey on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, omnibus survey of 986 doctors by Opinion Research Business for Right to Life, April 2003.

25.  Physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, Medix web survey of 1000 doctors, August 2004, for VES.

26.  National survey of United Kingdom psychiatrists' attitudes to euthanasia, 1998, Shah, Warner, Blizzard, King, University Department of Psychiatry, Royal Free Hospital, London. Postal questionnaire survey of 322 senior psychiatrists.

27.  United Kingdom geriatricians' attitudes to active voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted death. 1999. D. Clark, G. Dickenson et al, Sheffield Institute for Studies on Ageing, Academic Palliative Medicine Unit, University of Sheffield; Dept of Sociology, University of Charleston, South Carolina. Postal questionnaire responses from 333 consultant geriatricians (from national total of 742).

28.  British community pharmacists' views of physician-assisted suicide. Hanlon, Weiss, Rees, Universities of Bristol and Manchester 2000, reported in Journal of Medical Ethics, 2000/26/pp363-369. Postal survey of 179 full-time community pharmacists.

29.  Nursing Times readership surveys, 1988 and 2003 (1000 and 2700 responses, respectively).

30.  Help the Hospices/Clear Thinking Consultancy. Research among palliative care staff, 2004. Small-scale qualitative research among a range of staff—focus groups with 62 professionals drawn from 29 independent hospices.

83   Practitioners of panel surveys claim that the financial motive and the familiarity with responding to surveys which inclusion within a panel can bring do not interfere with the process of obtaining authentic responses. Set against this is the traditional concern of the United Kingdom market research industry that spontaneity can be eroded by over-exposure to requests for response. Back

84   This refers to a mental or physical impairment which has had an adverse effect upon the ability to carry out normal day to day activities, but does not incorporate any concept of degree of adverse effect.  Back

85   Some people say that the law should allow adults to receive medical help to an immediate peaceful death if they suffer from an incurable physical illness that is intolerable to them, provided they have previously requested such help in writing. Do you agree or disagree with this? Back

86   Sometimes I would be prepared to withdraw or withhold a course of treatment from a terminally ill patient, knowing the treatment might prolong the patient's life Back

87   In 2004, this was changed to When a patient is terminally ill with unbearable suffering and is physically unable to commit suicide, e.g. MND Back

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