Adapted from SAVES — South Australian Voluntary Euthanasia SocietyThe following Fact Sheet has been prepared by the South Australian Voluntary Euthanasia Society (SAVES). For further information visit their website athttp://www.saves.asn.au
SAVES Fact Sheet No.3
Australian medical opinion was tested in 1987 by a survey in Victoria by the Centre for Human Bio-Ethics, Monash University (1) and again in 1993 by a similar survey in New South Wales by the University of NSW School of Community Medicine (2). The results of the two surveys were very similar.
Around 60% of respondents answered “yes” to the question:
“Do you think it is sometimes right for a doctor to take active steps to bring about the death of a patient who has requested the doctor to do this ?”
Nearly 50% of respondents had received a request for death to be hastened and of these, nearly 30% said that they had complied with the request. More than 50% of the doctors who refused the request said that illegality had been a factor in their refusal.
Around 60% of all respondents favoured a change in the law to permit voluntary euthanasia in certain circumstances and under certain conditions. In surveys of medical practitioners carried out in South Australia (1991) by Flinders University Department of Sociology (3) and in Queensland (1995) by the University of Queensland Department of Social and Preventative Medicine (4), the corresponding figures were 45% and 30% respectively.
The opinions of General Practitioners (as opposed to medical practioners as a whole) are of particular relevance since this group is more likely to have treated terminally ill patients and to have provided active help to die on request. A national survey of GPs who were members of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners was carried out in 1996. It found (5) :
more GPs (46%) “would wish to have the option of voluntary euthanasia” than not (36%);
a majority of GP’s (56%) would not be distressed if euthanasia were available to others;
a majority of GP’s (56%) believed voluntary euthanasia should be limited to “the terminal stage of a terminal illness”;
a majority of GP’s (64%) believed that euthanasia can be an act of caring.
The Australian Medical Association and most other medical associations are opposed to legalising voluntary euthanasia. The (Australian) Doctors’ Reform Society supports voluntary euthanasia under safeguards similar to those used in the Netherlands. (See Fact Sheet 4 )
Surveys of medical opinion which have been carried out in Britain and many other European countries, and in Canada and the USA, have produced similar results to those in Australia.
Kuhse H, Singer P. Doctors’ practices and attitudes regarding voluntary euthanasia. Med J Aust 1988; 148:623-627.
Baume P, O’Malley E. Euthanasia; attitudes and practices of medical practitioners. Med J Aust 1994; 161:137-144.
Stevens CA, Hassan R. Management of death dying and euthanasia: attitudes and practices of medical practitioners in South Australia. J Med Ethics 1994; 20:41-46.
Steinberg M A et al. End-of-life decision making: community and medical practitioners’ perspectives. Med J Aust 1997; 166:131-135.
Wilson I, Kay B, Steven I. General practitioners and euthanasia. Aust Fam Phys 1997; 26:399-401.
Further information contact SAVES at: http://www.saves.asn.au
Or contact: Hon Secretary, SAVES, PO Box 2151, Kent Town, SA 5071, Australia – Fax + 61 8 8265 2287