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More UK doctors think legalizing physician-assisted suicide will hurt their profession: survey

Getty Images/Science Photo Library
Getty Images/Science Photo Library

Doctors in the United Kingdom are nearly split in their support or opposition to legalizing physician-assisted suicide, but a significantly higher percentage believe legalization will hurt their profession, according to a recent poll.

Doctors.net.uk conducted an online survey in October of approximately 1,088 registered members of the General Medical Council, the findings of which were released last month.

According to the report, nearly 48% of British doctors said they opposed legalizing what was labeled "physician-assisted dying," while nearly 45% supported legalizing it.

The survey also found that 26% of respondents believed that legalizing physician-assised suicide would positively impact the medical profession, while 47% said it would negatively impact the profession. The remainder were either "unsure" or felt the impact would be "neutral."

Among respondents who specialized in palliative care, 73% expressed opposition to legalizing assisted suicide while 18% support the idea. General practitioners, the largest subgroup of respondents at 337, were slightly more likely than the general sample to oppose legalization, with 52% opposed, 40% in favor, and the rest unsure. 

Catherine Robinson, spokesperson for the Right to Life UK, said in a statement Tuesday that it should not be surprising that those involved in palliative care would oppose legalizing assisted suicide. 

"The results of this survey confirm the findings of a BMA survey from 2020 that also found the overwhelming majority of doctors in palliative care remain opposed to assisted suicide," stated Robinson.

"Doctors at the coal face of life and death recognize that current laws on assisted suicide and euthanasia exist to protect those who are sick, elderly, depressed or disabled from feeling obliged to end their lives. They do not need changing."

The poll comes as Scotland is considering a bill championed by Scottish Parliament Member Liam McArthur that would legalize assisted suicide for adults who are of a sound mind and suffering from a terminal illness.

According to the pro-euthanasia advocacy group Dignity in Dying Scotland, the proposed legislation is in the process of being drafted and will next go before the Health Committee.

In July 2022, the Church of England's General Synod overwhelmingly passed a motion reaffirming its opposition to assisted suicide and calling on the government to give more funding to alternatives.

"[We] call on Her Majesty's Government to guarantee and expedite the adequate funding and resourcing of palliative care services within the NHS to ensure that the highest possible standards of care are achieved and made universally accessible," reads the motion.

"[We also] affirm that the current legislation in relation to Assisted Suicide referenced in Section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 (and its application through the DPP guidelines) should remain unchanged."

Lord George Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury who served in the leadership role from 1991 to 2002, has openly expressed support for legalizing euthanasia since 2014.

"It is, of course, profoundly Christian to do all we can to ensure nobody suffers against their wishes," wrote Carey in a 2020 column.

"Some people believe they will find meaning in their own suffering in their final months and weeks of life. I respect that, but it cannot be justified to expect others to share that belief."  

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