This morning there are two new polls on assisted suicide, from drawn from the YouGov/Telegraph poll, the other carried out by ComRes earlier this month for BBC Panorama tonight.

ComRes found 73% of people thought that a family member or close friend should be able to assist the suicide of someone with a “painful illness or condition from which they will die” if they were physically incapable of doing so themselves. The figures were also identical when they asked if the law should allow a medical professional to do the same – 74% agreed.

ComRes then asked the same questions about someone suffering from an “incurable and painful illness of condition from which they will NOT die”- in this case people were far more evenly split, 48% thought a friend or family member should be able to assist in such a suicide without prosection, 49% thought they shouldn’t. Here figures for medical professionals were slightly more negative – 45% support to 52% oppose.

YouGov‘s questions did not explore the difference in opinion depending upon whether illness were terminal or not, but they found a similar overall level of support for assisted suicide. 75% thought the law should be amended to allow “some people, such as doctors and/or close relatives to assist a suicide in particular circumstances”, and 67% thought that doctors should have the “legal power to end the life of a terminally ill patient who has given a clear indication of the wish to die.”

YouGov also asked about the status quo and the Director of Public Prosecutions’ signal that while assisting a suicide remained a criminal offence, he would not prosecute “relatives who assist in the suicide of a relative or close friend with a ‘clear, settled and informed’ wish to die” – 82% of people thought this was a humane and sensible approach, with only 11% thinking the law should be enforced in these circumstances.


30 Responses to “Public support for assisted suicide”

  1. This sort of thing always comes accross as the sort of thing where public opinion is not all that important. When the government decided to put an end to the death penalty, the majority were still in favour of it – in fact it’s not exactly a massivly unpopular concept now.

    Complicated issues like this cannot really be decided on the knee jerk reaction of the general public. I’m all for a public discourse, but it needs to be more complex than ‘do you think it should be/shouldn’t be aloud’.

    For me, its always going to be a case by case thing.

  2. I think it is quite upsetting that suicide is seen by many as some kind of human right.

  3. There is legislation under process in the Scottish Parliament. Maybe the Catholic influence will defeat it, maybe the personal problem of the independent member promoting it will make all the difference.

    If it succeeds, you won’t need to go to Geneva.

  4. The death penalty and uk independence from europe are also popular view’s if things are done just on popularity why have politicans, shouldn’t we just let the public have a vote????

    I think it is dangerous to allow assisted suicide because many disabled people who are seen as a burden by their carers may well be pesweded to die.

  5. Unless any of us are, or have been in a situation where this affects us directly in our family, any opinions are, to be honest, inappropriate.
    Who knows how any of us would react if we were confronted with such a massive decision. Best left alone I think.

  6. This would seem to be a sensible step in the law and not at all depressing like Jim seems to think.

    However i would imagine that this is a topic that wouldn’t really affect many people’s voting intentions. Don’t get me wrong i still think teh poll is worthwhile for general; interest’s sake, but not much more.

  7. Jim, you say “shouldn’t we just let the public have a vote???? ”

    Democracy in the classical sense (as invented by the Greeks) is all about letting people have a SAY.

    Letting people have a vote is not necessarily democratic, especially if the elected make decisions that htey decide are in our interests, rather than on our behalf.

    For “parliamentary democracy” read “elite-run hierarchy”. Of course we have a vote, but having a say requires more effort on our part, and better access to fora from where we can influence.

    On this particular issue, I’m glad the “humane” side of the argument prevails as the medical advances produces so many more hard cases than was the case.

  8. Barry P

    My brother, in the later stages of pancreatic cancer, had ensured that he had acquired the means to end his life at a time of his own choosing. I share his view.

    As John Dick says this matter will be voted on in the Scottish Parliament. Scots Law is based on European Civil Law as opposed to English Common Law, and it simply doesn’t make sense here to have the Lord Advocate give a “nod and a wink” that relatives probably won’t be prosecuted.

    Law enshrines those aspects of moral principles which a society can agree on. Consequently, Scottish polling on this issue seems inevitable in a position where a real decision needs to be made as opposed to a question which is theoretical to most.

    Those polls over the next few months will be much more illuminating than these current ones over GB.

  9. Not terribly surprising. It’d be interesting to see where the numbers went if you asked a few more questions though, asking about the risk of people being pressured and the like.

    It’d be a bit like a push poll, but in this case that may be relevant – it’s isn’t going to be a straight up debate, it’ll be a contest between those arguing for a right to die and those arguing that it’ll lead to people being pressured into it.

  10. Anyone know what the political parties are saying on this issue, it’s seems rather taboo!

    In other poll news:

    ComRes/Indy poll will show further Tory slippage to 7% lead.

    5 polls in a row with the lead below 10%, when did that last happen?

  11. To be cynical we’re in a recession , public spending needs to be cut and looking after severely ill people costs a lot of money.

  12. Sorry to interject here. Apparently, there is a ComRes poll coming out with a 7% Tory lead.

  13. Ben

    In the only Parliament where the matter is actually being considered, all parties have said that this a conscience vote, and there will be no party whipping.

  14. Good. I’m all in favour of assisted suicide, where the individual desires it and has a terminal or incurable and seriously debilitating or painful illness. My mother has requested assisted suicide in the event that she develops the disease that killed her own mother very slowly and distressingly. I don’t honestly know that I’d have the courage to fulfil her wishes but I hope that I would. Fortunately, mum is in very good health for her age so if we’re lucky we’ll never have to find out. As far as I’m concerned, my mother has every right to make her own choice on this matter. People like Jim have no right whatsoever to make decisions for her.

  15. For those who have a serious interest in this issue, here is the Bill that Margo has introduced.

    http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/s3/bills/38-EndLifeAssist/b38s3-introd.pdf

    Note that it has nothing to do with Terry Pratchett’s idea for England.

  16. Terry Pratchett, one of my favourite authors, is very much in favour of allowing this. He suffers from Alzheimers.

    Personally, I would prefer he remained alive until the last. I’d be fervently hoping for a medical advance that would save him & he’d be able to write more books.

    How selfish am I?

    But it also reflects my completely non-religeous view that where there is life, there is hope of change for the better.

  17. Amber Star

    Because this such a serious issue,and the Scottish Bill is totally unrelated to Terry Pratchett’s idea, I’ve posted the link to the text of the Bill.

    It’s still in moderation but (assuming Anthony releases it) it should appear just before your post.

    One of the massive difficulties of actually legislating in this area is that people bring matters into the discussin which are unrelated to the proposed legislative provisions.

  18. It is a very important issue and i am annoyed that people like murder please put this up censorship is very unfair in a democratic society

  19. One of the reasons I am a frequent contributor to this site is that I have had time, not working but looking after an elderly relative (and am now unemployed after she has died). From this experience I am alarmed that the issue of euthanasia is being hijacked by the chattering classes.

    It is not an easy issue.

    Yes, There are people who suffer agony whilst dying of cancer. There are also people with degenerative diseases who are in the ghastly situation of knowing that they will fall into decay and distress. It is understandable that people may regard assisted suicide as preferable to such fates.

    But there are also many frail but healthy elderly people who are frightened by the poor treatment they may get in hospital if they need inpatient care for any reason (for instance a broken leg or a heart attack). In the worst case, they are scared that they will effectively suffer involuntary euthanasia by being deprived of water (“Nil by mouth”). It is a dreadful way to go, but the doctors can get away with it because it involves acts of omission rather than acts of commission. Old people dread going into X Ward (I won’t use the real name of the local example), where they feel the hospital puts they cases that aren’t full treatment and from which, to be blunt, they fell they may never emerge once admitted. In my local hospital, the second class status of X Ward is emphasised because it is tucked away behind the kitchens and the canteen, separate form the other wards.

    To be personal, the relative I was looking after from time to time had feinting fits. They really needed to be checked out to ensure they weren’t strokes. But my relative didn’t like the ambulance being called because she didn’t want to get hospitalised. And a perceived possibility of being “invited” to undergo voluntary euthanasia would have made her even more reluctant to go to hospital.

    If you are healthy, but frail and, say, ninety, laws to enable assisted suicide are likely to appear as a threat. Given that there isn’t sufficient protection to ensure that hosptial staff don’t withold treatment without consulting patients and relatives, there is little reason to have confidence that patients will not be “encouraged” to suffer euthanasia.

    There is a related, but unpleasant, issue that is not being discussed adequately in this debate: the lack of money in the NHS to treat the elderly, and those with illnesses, particularly cancer, that require very expensive drugs to maintain life a bit longer at a reasonable quality. How will cancer patients, for example, who request euthanasia know that they are not being denied drugs for cost reasons? There ia a serious risk that volunatary euthanasia will result in fewer treatments being offer for the terminally ill.

    It may sound emotive, but we should remember that the Nazis started on the slippery slope to mass extermination by euthanasia for the mentally handicapped. They used ideas from Eugenics that were actually quite widely supported by eminent people in the United Kingdom, including some prominent thinkers on the Left as well as the Right, and indeed not a few LIberals (there are philosophical links from freemarket liberalism through “survival of the fittest” to Eugenics).

    In a complicated argument, the assisted suicide debate appears to be being swung by people concerned with particular diseases. They are not seeing the sliipery slope their arguments could lead to, and I think they may be swamping the concerns of less articulate older people and their relatives who are frightentened that they will not be cared for in hospital (of course, the chattering classes feel they can fight their corner with the hospital staff).

    All this may sound rather opinionated, but there is a psephological question. How far is opinion in this policy area led by the vocal against the less? How far is the majority opinion reported bu opinion polls genuine, or how far does it reflect, arguably biassed, recent media presentation? And can it, as in Germany lead to policy decisions that start out looking sensible (putting the pathetically defective out of their misery) into something that is both immoral and which rebounds, too late, by becoming highly unpopular (The Nazis had to stop euthanasia for mental defectives because of the reactions of relatives)?

    In general, this issue should be one of conscience. But the Government should whip to ensure the defeat of any proposals that would lead to breaches of human rights, as defined by international law.

  20. The BBC say that there’ll be a vote on switching to AV. Surely it won’t be passed, but if it is….Oooh, excitement!

  21. Ben – I haven’t checked, but it’s the sort of issue that’s likely to be a free vote in the Commons (actually, going down the thread it seems that Oldnat has already answered)

    On the ComRes poll, I’ll put something up soon. I expected it to be released much later on tonight!

  22. Frederic Stansfield

    Margo MacDonald is also concerned by such issues, and has tried to address them in her Bill.

    Have a look at it.

  23. I can’t believe Labour will want AV to come in for the election on May 6th. The worst time for any party to contest an election with AV is when it’s been in power for 13 years or longer. The Tories would have held very few seats in 1997 under this system.

  24. Thanks Anthony, so it’s likely it will be a private member who would pursue any changes in the Law rather then it being made policy for either the Tories or Labour.

    Independent Minds is stating the ComRes poll shows 82% of people saying Cameron should be clearer about what he would do about [the economy] as prime minister – looking forward to your analysis at 10pm.

  25. Andy – it won’t affect 2010. It’s supposed to put a referendum on the ballot, probably for 2011. Thinking is (aside from those amongst the cabinet who genuinely support it) that this will force Cameron to repeal it, therefore making him look opposed to reform.

    Frederic – it’s definitely a concern. However, just about every bill aiming to legalise euthanasia sticks in fairly stringent safeguards for euthanasia proper. As to the issue of deliberate neglect, one wonders if a bill allowing people to specify ‘Always recuscitate/never nil by mouth’ might pass? Seems like a good way to cover both ends – I think I’d want the right to die, but I know my nonagenarian grandparents wouldn’t.

  26. Edward Carlsson Browne
    “this will force Cameron to repeal it, therefore making him look opposed to reform”

    At least Cameron can point out to the hoi polloi that the Tories have been consistently anti-democratic from before the Representation of the People Act 1832 whilst Labour toy with democracy in times of need, having been for STV before WW2 and even wrote electoral reform into their ’97 manifesto.

  27. Assisted suicide is not at all the same thing as euthanasia. Any law would have to make it clear that a decision by the person wishing to die is required. Otherwise it’s murder.

  28. As Derek says, assisted suicide is not the same thing at all as euthanasia. Assisted suicide is right to take one’s own life under certain circumstances, not a right to go around culling other people.

    This is a serious and important issue and it would be nice if people could discuss it without flinging around hyperbolic and misleading terms like “euthanasia” and “murder”.

  29. Assisted suicide is certainly not the same as euthanasia, but that does not mean there is no slippery slope between the two. Not least, it is clear from current debate that in many cases assistance to commit suicide does involve substantial action by a relative, friend or health professional to end a life.

    I appreciate that any bill concerning assisted suicide would try to incorporate safeguards. But I am far from convinced that they would work. Not least, I am unclear how safeguards operating at an individual level would prevent cutbacks in the provision of expensive treatments of diseases like cancer at a collective level.

    Look how powers in other areas get extended. For instance, how when the police are given liberty limiting powers that we are assured in parliament will only be used for the prevention of specific serious crimes these powers soon get used to pick people up for minor offences, sometimes curbing what should be legitimate political activity.

    Again, look at current problems in determining whether people are sufficiently mentally coherent to sign powers of attorney for people to deal with their affairs (the alternative court procedures are very expensive, awkward and slow). There would be similar pressures to stretch the limits when assessing the mental capabilities of terminally ill people in pain if it came to authorising assisted suicide. Wherever the law drew the line, there would be demands by relatives and health professionals to bend it as far as possible.

    And a specific point in response to Edward Carlsson. Browne. “Nil By Mouth”, which usually means dying of thirst, is a horrible way to die where the patient retains any consciousness. I am far from convinced that it is not being used covertly as a means of involuntary euthanasia in hospitals short of space and unable to give every possible treatment for so many old people at the end of their lives. We shouldn’t have involuntary euthanasia at all, but leaving people to die rather than actively preventing distress whilst they are dying is also totally unacceptable.

  30. I heard most of a radio programme on this a day or two ago. No mention of Margo MacDonald.

    That’s the BBC, but press and government ministers and PR are just as ignorant of a Scottish dimension to many issues from the chemical castration of pigs to CFP bye-catch to University fees and exotic hospital cross infections.

    Scotland needs a better BBC and press as well as a better government.