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The public are being “scared” into supporting assisted suicide and euthanasia

by | Feb 3, 2022

The public are at risk of being “scared” into supporting assisted suicide and euthanasia, because of a handful of hard cases, exaggerated reporting, and a lack of accurate information about palliative care, warn end of life doctors.

By The Association of Palliative Medicine

The claims are contained in a new study from the Association of Palliative Medicine (APM), which surveyed its members at end of last year. The survey found high levels of concern among end-of-life doctors, who believe that there is too great a focus by some media on the “negative” and “traumatic” while ignoring “good palliative care and good deaths”.

Asked, given the work you do, do you feel there has been enough press coverage of good deaths? nearly nine in 10, (87 per cent) answered No, while just one in 13, (7.5 per cent) said yes.

Given the opportunity to expand on their views one doctor added: 

“I wish there would be a lot more publicity and promotion about all positive experiences of death and dying that occur across the country… Most of the time the bad ones hit the news and overshadow all the good work that’s carried out by palliative care teams”, 

Another added: 

“There has been huge bias in reporting misery of deaths and less on good palliative care and good deaths”. While a third suggested the current campaign to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia was “generating fear”.

The survey found doctors were alarmed at common misconceptions about palliative care in the UK. Asked, would you say that some patients and families think you are already practising covert euthanasia?, two thirds, (67.62 per cent) answered yes definitely or yes probably. By contrast, fewer than one in five (16.8 per cent) answered probably not and just 8 per cent answered Definitely not.

A majority of APM members also believe that the combination of these factors are scaring the British public into supporting assisted suicide and euthanasia, which is unnecessary in a clinical context and would alter the nature of palliative care.

Dr. Amy Proffitt, Chair of the APM commented: 

“As the representative body for doctors who provide palliative care in hospitals, hospices, primary care and other settings, our members are deeply concerned at the way a small section of the media has painted a grossly misleading picture of palliative care in this country. Stories about good deaths, available treatments and how to access end-of-life care are largely sacrificed in favour of those that focus on negative outcomes, which unfortunately are scaring vulnerable patients. This is then compounded by failing to ask why these issues occurred. For example, was the patient able to access all the services they needed? For any clinician, this is the obvious first question, because we know that around one in four people who would benefit from palliative care do not receive it.”

Critics of the amendment including palliative doctors and disability rights groups have pointed to the dangers of changing the law and how it would represent a dramatic change to the way doctors and nurses treat and care for people. They point to examples in the US and Europe where safeguard have been eroded or ditched over time and where the so-called right to die become a duty to die. In the State of Oregon, for example, six in ten (59 per cent) of those ending their lives in 2019 cited the fear of being a burden on their families, friends and caregivers as a reason for seeking death and a further 7.4 per cent cited financial worries. While in Canada, 1,400 people who were euthanised last year cited loneliness as a reason for their decision.  

Dr. Proffitt continued: 

“The message from our member is clear and overwhelming. We must redouble our effort to engage with our patients about the benefits of palliative care and stop scaring vulnerable patients with isolated and misleading reports about slow, miserable painful deaths.”

The study concludes: 

“Based on the results of this survey, it is clear not only that palliative care clinicians do not want to participate in assisted suicide or euthanasia, but also that practitioners themselves remain uncertain as to what the reality of legalising assisted suicide would mean for them, their profession or for their patients…

“…There needs to be better awareness of how end-of-life care is delivered, which may begin with an improved media narrative. The legalisation of assisted suicide could be undermined significantly if patients were not being frightened by hard cases in the media, and instead understood that, in the majority of cases, good palliative care can facilitate a good death.”

Categories: Assisted Suicide