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Soc Sci Med. 2003 Aug;57(4):721-31.

Physician and family assisted suicide: results from a study of public attitudes in Britain.

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Harkness Fellow in Health Policy 2001-2002, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA, USA.


Legalisation of assisted suicide presents a dilemma for society. This arises because of a lack of consensus regarding the precedence to be accorded freedom of choice versus the inviolability of human life. Several factors including improvements in medical technology, population ageing and changing perceptions about quality of life serve to make a re-examination of attitudes to this issue appropriate at this time. Within this context, data from the 1983, 1984, 1989 and 1994 British Social Attitudes Surveys (BSAS) were examined. These demonstrate a slight increase in support for physician-assisted suicide (PAS) from around 75% to around 84% over the 11-year period in Britain. A much lower level of support (54%) was recorded in relation to family-assisted suicide (FAS). A logistic regression analysis of data from the 1994 survey was undertaken to establish the relationship between attitudes toward legalisation of PAS and FAS and the characteristics of the respondent. Strength of religious affiliation was found to be a significant determinant of opposition to legalisation of both. Religious denomination was found to be marginally significant in relation to PAS but not FAS. Members of the Church of England, non-Christian faiths and those of no faith were found to be marginally more likely to support legalisation of PAS, than Roman Catholics or those of other Christian faiths. Education, income, sex, marital status, long-standing illness and age were not found to be significant predictors of attitude. In relation to FAS age was also found to be significant predictor of opposition. Findings here suggest that if Britain continues to become a more secularised society, support for legalisation of PAS (and FAS) is likely to increase. As health care costs continue to grow and the ability to extend life (even where the quality of that life may be poor) increases, pressure for legalisation of PAS may increase.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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