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Poll shows public support growing for assisted suicide
Kay Gilderdale
A judge questioned the public interest in prosecuting Kay Gilderdale

A clear majority of Britons support allowing assisted suicide for the terminally ill, according to a poll conducted for the BBC's Panorama.

The poll, by ComRes, found that 73% of people agreed that family or friends should not fear prosecution if they help a loved one to die.

However, it found that if the patient is in chronic pain, but not dying, public opinion is evenly divided.

The poll also found a higher level of public awareness of the issue.

Andrew Hawkins, chief executive of ComRes, said the results reflect changing attitudes.

"From similar work we have done in the past, it looks as though opinion has firmed up in support of assisted suicide," he said.

The poll also asked if people supported allowing a medical professional to be legally permitted to help patients end their lives.

I think there is a long way to go before the British public will accept that assisted suicide is a reasonable answer when the person isn't terminally ill
Andrew Hawkins, ComRes polling

In that instance, the results were similar, with 74% of respondents supporting the measure, while 23% were opposed and 3% said they did not know.

Mr Hawkins said he was surprised that the survey showed the public has similar support for a loved one assisting a suicide as a medical professional.

"This is one of those issues where we would normally expect the sort of recognition that this is a responsibility of a medical professional rather than a family member."

Chronic illness

When asked about helping a person to die who is in pain from an incurable but illness or condition, but who is not terminally ill, Mr Hawkins said public attitudes are still very much divided.

The survey found that 48% felt a family member should be able to legally assist the suicide of those who were incapable of ending their own life, while 49% opposed that intervention.

"I think there is a long way to go before the British public will accept that assisted suicide is a reasonable answer when the person isn't terminally ill," Mr Hawkins said of the results.

Opinion poll
ComRes surveyed 1010 adults by telephone between 8th and 10th January.

Data was weighted to be representative demographically of all GB adults.

The poll results come a week after Kay Gilderdale was acquitted by a jury in Lewes Crown Court of the attempted murder of her 31-year-old daughter Lynn, who suffered from a severe case of the debilitating neurological condition, ME.

Lynn Gilderdale died in December 2008 of morphine toxicity after injecting herself with an overdose of the pain killer.

Her mother had previously admitted aiding and abetting her suicide and was given a 12-month conditional sentence.

'Desperate measures'

But Mrs Gilderdale's actions during the 30 hours that it took her daughter to die of the overdose - which included internet searches on suicide, administering a mix of sedatives and sleeping tablets to her daughter and contacting an assisted suicide support group - led the Crown Prosecution Service to charge her with attempted murder.

Lynn Gilderdale
Lynn Gilderdale was too weak to travel to Switzerland to die

In an interview with the BBC, Mrs Gilderdale said she believes there needs to be more clarification in the law and that a panel of medical professionals and family members should be kept aware of the wishes of the patient as their illness progresses so that there is no doubt of their frame of mind should they request help in killing themselves.

She said by not addressing the issue in law, those who are unable to travel to Switzerland and commit suicide with the help of the advocacy group Dignitas are being denied a choice available to others.

"Its unjust to those people like Lynn...so if you can afford it, if you have enough health to go, then it's okay, we will turn a blind eye.

"But what about the people like Lynn, they can't afford it, they're too ill, they are left to take desperate measures like Lynn had to."

Panorama: I Helped My Daughter Die, BBC One, Monday, 1 February at 2030GMT.



SEE ALSO
CPS defends suicide mother charge
Tuesday, 26 January 2010, 15:22 GMT |  Sussex
Should law be changed on 'mercy killings'?
Tuesday, 26 January 2010, 16:04 GMT |  UK
Mother cleared in ME death trial
Monday, 25 January 2010, 21:05 GMT |  Sussex
Q&A: Assisted suicide
Thursday, 25 February 2010, 13:05 GMT |  Health
Assisted suicide law 'clarified'
Wednesday, 23 September 2009, 10:22 GMT |  Health

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