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Eight patients helped to die each day, says survey

From: The Daily Telegraph

Nearly 3,000 patients in Britain were illegally helped to die by doctors last year, while approximately one third of all British deaths during the year were hastened using drugs, new research has suggested.

The study, by Professor Clive Seale of Brunel University, also showed just under half a per cent of all deaths in Britain – 2,865 cases – were assisted by doctors last year.

Prof Seale calculated the figure – amounting to eight patients every day – from an anonymous survey of doctors.

According to the survey, 936 of the 585,000 deaths in 2004 were described by doctors as voluntary euthanasia. A further 1,929 cases were described as “ending life without an explicit request from the patient”, which is also known as non-voluntary euthanasia.

Such cases usually involved patients very close to death who had previously indicated their wishes for euthanasia but were unable to give a specific instruction to doctors, said Prof Seale.

Both voluntary and involuntary euthanasia are illegal under British law.

Prof Seale also said almost exactly a third of all deaths, or 191,811 cases, had been accelerated by doctors using pain relief, known medically as “alleviation of symptoms with possibly life shortening effect”, or the “double effect”.

There were no cases of suicide assisted by doctors reported in the survey.

Although the figures appear very high, Prof Seale remarked: “The rate in the UK is significantly lower than in other countries where this survey has been conducted.”

Only 14 per cent of doctors surveyed said they were dissatisfied with the current law on euthanasia, with 82 per cent backing current legislation, and the remainder giving mixed views, out of the 51 who expressed an opinion.

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of pro-euthanasia campaign group the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, said: “This research proves that some doctors break the law and deliberately help patients die.

“This is all done in secret and denied in public.”

She added: “This cannot be safe.”