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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 September, 2004, 06:26 GMT 07:26 UK
Half 'would help loved ones die'
Some countries allow assisted dying but there is a ban in the UK
Nearly half of people are ready to break the law to help terminally ill loved ones die, a survey suggests.

The poll, commissioned by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, is published on the day an inquiry starts on the law banning euthanasia in the UK.

The NOP World survey of 790 people found 47% would help terminally ill loved ones die if they were suffering.

Eighty-two per cent backed a change in the law to allow terminally ill people to get medical help to die.

That figure has remained virtually unchanged since the last time the VES asked the same question in a survey, before the death of campaigner Diane Pretty in 2002.

Some 51% said if they were terminally ill and suffering unbearably they would want a family member, friend or doctor to help them die while 37% said they would not.

But pro-life campaigners have criticised the survey for "not representing" the public's view.

Support increased

Initial figures from the survey published last week showed 50% of all Britons would consider going abroad to receive medical assistance to die if they were suffering from a terminal illness.

Surely the response of a compassionate society is to alleviate the pain, to love and comfort the patient and to try and restore a sense of self-worth until death comes naturally
Julia Millington, of the ProLife Party

VES chief executive Deborah Annetts said: "By saying they would be prepared to break the law if a terminally ill loved one asked them to, the public are sending a clear message to our law makers that the law needs reform.

"The choice they have is between secret, unregulated assisted dying and a regulated system with the strictest safeguards in the world.

"With regulation comes safeguards - it supports the doctors, gives them guidance , also protects the vulnerable," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Ms Annetts said a majority of doctors backed a law change but that the united support of the medical profession was not needed for the law to be passed.

"This is not a matter just for doctors, it is for society."

Ms Annetts was due to give evidence on Thursday before the House of Lords Select Committee on Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill.

Change

It proposes a lifting of the UK ban to "enable a competent adult who is suffering unbearably as a result of a terminal illness to receive medical assistance to die at his own considered and persistent request".

The UK law was last examined in 1994 but a change was rejected. Since then Belgium, Holland and Oregon have changed their laws to permit assisted dying in different ways.

SURVEY RESULTS
82% wanted a change in the law, 11% did not. 7% did not know
47% would help loved ones die, if asked, 35% would not. 18% did not know
51% would want help to die if they were terminally ill and suffering unbearably, 37% would not. 12% did not know

Lesley Close, whose brother, John, went to Switzerland for an assisted death in 2002, added: "It is incredibly sad that by offering no choice at all, the law forces the most vulnerable people in our society into such extreme and agonising choices.

"People want the law changed and Lord Joffe's bill offers a much better way of dealing with these issues."

But Julia Millington, the political director of the ProLife Party, said the survey should not be interpreted as representing public opinion.

Serious

"They have surveyed not 1% or even half a percent but 0.00066% of the population.

"However, the issues at stake here are extremely serious.

"What we haven't been shown are the many patients who are benefiting from first rate palliative care and who completely reject the idea of euthanasia.

"The Voluntary Euthanasia Society would have us believe that the law would only apply in certain cases where laid down criteria are satisfied.

"However, evidence from countries where euthanasia has been legalised, such as Holland, shows that it is not possible to prevent the boundaries from being expanded.

"Surely the response of a compassionate society is to alleviate the pain, to love and comfort the patient and to try and restore a sense of self-worth until death comes naturally.'


SEE ALSO:
The quality of mercy is strained
05 Aug 04  |  Magazine


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