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.14
Nursing Opinion

Australian nursing opinion was tested in Victoria in 1991 in a survey by the Centre for Human Bioethics, Monash University (Kuhse/Singer) (1), and in 1994 in a survey by a Senior Lecturer at LaTrobe University and the Director of the Caritas Christi and Order of Malta Hospice Home Care Service Aranda/O’Connor) (2). Both surveys were by mailed questionnaire.

Kuhse/Singer drew a random sample of 1,942 nurses from the Nursing Council Register. They received 943 responses, a return rate of 49%.

Aranda/O’Connor surveyed two groups of palliative care and oncology nurses of whom 171 responded, a return rate of 45%. They used the Kuhse/Singer questions, but also asked participants to supply descriptive information “about their experiences with euthanasia”.

The main findings (as percentages of those answering the particular question) were:

Nurses who had been asked to: K/S A/O
– hasten death by withdrawing treatment
or by taking active steps 55% 77%
– permit patient to forego life-sustaining treatment 66% 66%
– provide active euthanasia 66% 81%
Nurses complying with such requests 5% 3%
Nurses prepared to assist if legal 65% 40%
Nurses in favour of law reform
to allow doctors to provide VE 75% 50%

Aranda/O’Connor concluded from descriptive information obtained in their survey that the Kuhse/Singer questionnaire failed “to capture the complexity of nurses’ attitudes and practices in relation to euthanasia” and that nurses are less favourably disposed towards voluntary euthanasia than Kuhse/Singer suggest. Kuhse/Singer pointed out in response that the two surveys are not comparable since they sampled different populations of nurses, commenting “even among nurses working in an area with a culture opposed to voluntary euthanasia, two out of every five nurses would be prepared to assist with it if it were legal” and “more than four out of every five nurses working in the area had had at least one request for active euthanasia” (3).

A survey of 2000 ACT registered nurses was carried out in 1996 with a return rate of 61%, 69% of whom supported a change in the law to allow voluntary euthanasia in some circumstances (4). A similar survey of 1000 NSW Nurses’ association members was carried out in 1997 (5). The return rate was 47.5% with 80% supporting legalising voluntary euthanasia.

It seems reasonable to conclude that a clear majority of nurses are in support and that their support, although not as strong as that of the general public, is stronger than that of the medical profession.

(1) Kuhse, H. and Singer, P. 1992. Euthanasia: a survey of nurses attitudes and practices. Australian Nurses Jnl. 21, 8:21-22.
(2) Aranda, S. and O’Connor, M. 1995. Euthanasia, nurses and care of the dying: Rethinking Kuhse and Singer. Australian Nursing Jnl. 3,2:18-21.
(3) Kuhse, H. and Singer, P. 1995. No contradiction in euthanasia work. The Australian 1 August.
(4) Kitchener, B.A. 1998. Nurses’ attitudes to active voluntary euthanasia: a survey in the ACT. Aust. NZ Journal of Public Health 22,2:276-8.
(5) Iliffe, J. 1998 Nurses’ attitudes to voluntary euthanasia. Journal of the NSW Nurses’ Association 55,1:37-9.

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