Exclusive: Two-fifths of GPs want assisted suicide legalised

Two-fifths of GPs wish to see euthanasia legalised and would be prepared to help a terminally ill patient end their life, a GP newspaper survey has found.

Photograph: SPL
Photograph: SPL

The poll of 460 GPs across the UK has identified a groundswell of support for euthanasia, and could intensify pressure on the British Medical Association (BMA) to reconsider its stance against assisted suicide.

In 2004, a survey by the University of Brunel found that 82% of GPs supported a ban on euthanasia.

But 38 per cent of GPs surveyed by GP said they wanted to see the ban lifted, while 39% said that they should be able to assist a terminally ill patient in making plans to end their life.

Additionally, 38 per cent of GPs said that they would actually be prepared to help a patient end their life if the law was changed to allow them.

The results coincide with calls for a national debate on euthanasia, sparked by a sharp rise in the number of patients travelling to Switzerland for assisted suicides.

The charity Dignity in Dying said that the findings highlighted real support among GPs for assisted suicide.

A spokeswoman for the charity said: ‘Legislation would be plausible with this level of support from doctors.

‘At the very least, the BMA should have another debate and change its stance to neutral.’

London GP Dr Paddy Glackin, said: ‘Given that there are so many doctors and so many people throughout society who believe that this option should be open to patients, I do not believe that the blanket ban should remain.

‘I think the time has come where we should discuss the circumstances in which assisting suicide might be acceptable and what safeguards must be in place to protect the vulnerable.’

But Dr Tony Calland, chairman of the BMA’s ethics committee and a former GP, said: ‘The BMA has made it absolutely clear that it does not support any change to laws surrounding euthanasia.

‘There has been a debate twice in parliament and at the annual BMA conference.

‘The last BMA debate in 2006 quite clearly showed that the profession was against euthanasia.’

Even though one can make a case for individual patients, changing the law will open the door for patients to be influenced into assisted suicide to avoid becoming a burden for their carers, warned Dr Calland.

A spokesman for Royal College of General Practitioners added: ‘The college firmly believes that with current improvements in palliative care, good clinical care can be provided within existing legislation.’

sanjay.tanday@haymarket.com

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