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Wednesday, 5 February, 2003, 12:37 GMT
Nurses say patients helped to die
Anonymous nurse
Some nurses are confused about assisted suicide
One in 20 nurses believe colleagues are helping terminally ill patients die, a survey has revealed.

Half believe that the current law, which does not allow assisted suicide, should be reviewed so health professionals and relatives can help the terminally ill die with dignity.

But they say patients would have to be protected by clear guidelines.

The poll of over 1,000 nurses, conducted for Nursing Times magazine, showed there is confusion in the profession about whether "that last dose of morphine" constitutes assisted suicide.

We don't think it's the right time for a change in the euthanasia laws

RCN spokeswoman
It found 55 of the 1,173 questioned agreed that "Health professionals already quietly help patients to die."

The confusion over assisted suicide was spelt out by a senior A&E nurse who said: "The confusion I have is when we as nurses give that last dose of morphine or diamorphine or increase the frequency of it when we know it will be the last dose.

"Is that not assisting in some way?"

Switzerland trip

Rachel Downey, editor of the Nursing Times, said: "There is a grey area in which health care professionals - primarily nurses - administer powerful drugs to ease pain suffering knowing that the side effects can hasten the death of terminally ill patients."

A spokeswoman for the Royal College of Nursing said the poll reflected the views of a relatively small sample.

She told BBC News Online: "We don't think it's the right time for a change in the euthanasia laws.

"Some countries which do have laws, like Holland, seem to be having difficulties in how they are being managed."

But she said: "I think nurses are saying very clearly that if there is a change in the law, there have to be very, very clear guidelines."

She added the RCN backed increased investment in palliative care, rather than a law change. Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat health spokesman said: "The government should keep an open mind on the question of either legalising assisted suicide, or decriminalising voluntary euthanasia."

Calling for a Royal Commission on the issue, he said: "It is a question of offering a choice to competent citizens over this most personal matter."

The Nursing Times poll followed the death of Reg Crew, a 74-year-old motor neurone disease sufferer from Liverpool who had to travel to Switzerland to die at an assisted suicide clinic.

A recent online survey of 1,000 doctors showed over half believe terminally ill patients should be allowed to seek medical help to die.

See also:

24 Jan 03 | Health
24 Jan 03 | England
20 Jan 03 | Health
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