Exclusive: Nurses back assisted suicide but will not do abortions

Two-thirds of primary care nurses support the legalisation of assisted suicide, results of an Independent Nurse survey reveal.

Photograph: JH Lancy
Photograph: JH Lancy

Of 108 nurses who responded to the survey, 64% said they thought assisted suicide should be legalised.

In addition, 67% said that they thought that clinicians should be able to assist terminally ill patients who wish to end their lives if they are in chronic pain.

Many nurses responding to the survey said they thought that clear guidelines for practitioners would need to be in place in the event of assisted suicide being legalised.

Despite majority support for a change in the law, only 46% of nurses said they would be willing to help terminally ill patients end their lives if the law was changed to allow it.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is currently consulting members on their views on assisted suicide. The consultation is open until 22 May, after which responses will be considered by the college’s council.

The same survey found that almost two-thirds of primary care nurses would refuse to offer early medical abortions (EMAs) to patients if legislation was changed to allow them to do so.

The poll of 108 nurses found that the profession is divided over whether nurses should play a greater role in providing abortion care.

A total of 62% of nurses said that they were not prepared to offer EMAs to patients. Just over half, 54%, added that they do not wish to see the current legislation changed.

Currently, the Abortion Act of 1967 prevents nurses prescribing the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol, which are needed for an EMA. The Act also prevents nurses performing any surgical abortions.

Nurses also appear to be unsure over the benefits of offering EMAs in primary care, despite a push by the DoH to move more abortion care into the community.

51% of respondents said that they were against EMAs being made available in GP practices and polyclinics. While 37% said that they would not work in a practice or polyclinic that offered EMAs.


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