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Br J Gen Pract. 2000 Oct;50(459):794-7.

Voluntary euthanasia in Northern Ireland: general practitioners' beliefs, experiences, and actions.

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Dept of Psychology, Queen's University Belfast.



There has been much recent interest in the press and among the profession on the subject of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. The BMA recently conducted a 'consensus conference' over the internet to collect views on physician-assisted suicide. Any surveys to date have addressed a variety of specialties; however, no recent surveys have looked at general practitioner (GP) attitudes and experiences.


To explore the attitudes of GPs in Northern Ireland towards the issue of patient requests for euthanasia, their nature, and doctors' experiences of such requests.


An anonymous, confidential postal survey of all (1053) GP principals in Northern Ireland.


Seventy per cent of responders believe that passive euthanasia is both morally and ethically acceptable. Fewer (49%) would be prepared to take part in passive euthanasia. However, over 70% of physicians responding consider physician-assisted suicide and voluntary active euthanasia to be wrong. Thirty per cent of responders have received requests from patients for euthanasia in the past five years. One hundred and seven doctors gave information about these requests. Thirty-nine out of 54 patient requests for passive euthanasia had been complied with, as had one of 19 requests for physician-assisted suicide and four out of 38 patient requests for active euthanasia. Doctors perceived the main reasons why patients sought euthanasia was because of fear of loss of dignity and fear of being a burden to others.


While the majority of GPs support passive euthanasia, they, in common with those who approve of assisted suicide and active euthanasia, often express a reluctance to take part in such actions. This may reflect the moral, legal, and emotional dilemmas doctors encounter when facing end-of-life decisions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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