Assisted suicide and palliative care 'can work together'

Assisted dying laws do not mean that fewer people use palliative care, according to a study in Belgium.

It also shows that receiving spiritual care in the final three months of life was associated with higher frequencies of euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide than receiving little or no spiritual care.

Belgium is particularly suited to this study because it has well developed integrated palliative care provision as well as legalised euthanasia.

2,000 non-sudden deaths in Belgium from 2005 to 2006 were investigated. In the study 32% of patients were 85 or older, 50% were male and cancer was the cause of death in 43% of cases. Assisted dying was more commonly decided upon for patients with cancer.

Researchers found that life shortening and palliative care complemented one another and worked in unison.

Last week the RCN ended its opposition to assisted suicide.

Prosecutors will start work to clarify the law on assisted suicde after a landmark court victory by a multiple sclerosis sufferer. Law Lords backed a call yesterday by Debbie Purdy, 46, from Bradford, for formal advice on the legal position of those who help a loved one commit suicide. Interim guidance is expected in September.

BMJ study

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