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More MS news articles for February 2003

Half of nurses back assisted suicide

Friday February 7, 10:04 AM

Just over 50 per cent of nurses in the UK believe the law should be changed to allow health professionals to help terminally ill patients commit assisted-suicide, suggests an online poll.

A survey of 1,173 nurses, carried out by the website, found that 51 per cent of respondents thought health professionals should be legally allowed to help terminally ill patients "end their lives with dignity". But the nurses said clear guidelines would be needed to protect vulnerable patients.

However, 36 per cent voted against a change in the law and a further 5 per cent said that health professionals were already helping patients to die.

A Royal College of Nursing spokeswoman said the college did not think it was the right time for a change in the UK's euthanasia laws.

"Some countries which do have laws, like Holland, seem to be having difficulties in how they are being managed," she said.

She added, "I think nurses are saying very clearly that if there is a change in the law, there have to be very, very clear guidelines."

However, Jane MacDonald, a terminally ill campaigner from who was also a nurse before being forced to retire because of cancer and multiple sclerosis, said the poll showed that a "clear majority" of nurses backed a change in the law.

She said, "If we are serious about protecting vulnerable people and also about allowing terminally ill people like myself the option of choosing medical help to die with dignity, we must bring it out into the open and introduce strict legal safeguards."

A similar poll of 1,000 doctors, carried out for the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, found that 55 per cent of respondents believed that physician-assisted suicide should be permitted in cases where a patient had a terminal illness and was experiencing uncontrollable physical suffering.

The two surveys follow the case of motor neurone disease-sufferer Reginald Crew who died during January in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal. Mr Crew's wife Win may face a police investigation after accompanying her husband to a clinic run by the euthanasia group Dignitas.

© HMG Worldwide Ltd 2003