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Attitudes Towards Euthanasia Literature Review

Attitudes Towards Euthanasia Literature Review

Introduction

This literature review is based upon people’s attitudes towards Euthanasia, which comes from the Greek meaning ‘good death’ and in English means the killing of one person by another to relieve the suffering of that person and Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS), which is described as; a medical professional aiding a person who is incapable of the act themselves to commit suicide, (NHS, 2010). For this literature review, a literature search was performed using the Cochrane library, Science Direct, EBSCOhost and Sage using the key words:Attitudes Towards Euthanasia Literature Review

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Most of these words (with the exception of Assisted Suicide and Assisted Dying) were used in each of the search engines individually and also used to form sentences, however, the only electronic databases that gave this search the information it required was Sage. This provided a substantial amount of journals, a lot of the others used were subscription based or a fee was required, but from the free to use information two of the most relevant to the subject I wished to perform the review on were chosen. The two papers were chosen from surveys and studies performed in the United Kingdom, because it was decided to research what the thoughts and feelings of medical professionals were in a place where this practice was presently illegal. Use in the literature search, but this was difficult to come by. The titles of the three journals are: ‘Legalisation of Euthanasia or Physician Assisted Suicide: Survey of Doctors’ Attitudes’, and Opinions of the Legalised of Physician Assisted Suicide. Despite not inputting the word ‘physician’ into the search engine, a lot of the searches came up with types of journals which mention this anyway.Attitudes Towards Euthanasia Literature Review

This review will critically evaluate the information in the journals and will be compared with each other, discussing the disadvantages of the surveys and the advantages. The review will also include the various research methods used in the research.

The Literature Review

The first paper reviewed is in English by Clive Seale, PhD, from the Centre for Health Sciences, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, London and is called ‘The legalisation of Euthanasia or Physician-Assisted Suicide: Survey of Doctors’ Attitudes’. The protocol was to determine what doctors’ opinions about the legalisation of medically assisted dying (which includes the terms, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (PAS)) were and this was done in comparison with the opinions of the general public of the UK. The methodology was to send out structured questionnaires with a series of questions using qualitative methods and then analyse the results in a quantitative manner. In 2007, Binley’s database (http://www.binleys.com) was used to send questionnaires to 8857 currently working medical practitioners all over the UK, this was broken down into 2829 (7%) GPs, 443 (43%) neurologists, 836 (21% of these were doctors) specialists in the care of the elderly, 462 (54% of these were also doctors) specialists in palliative medicine and 4287 workers in other hospital based specialities. This is quite a large sample to use and covers a wide range of specialities. It is not clear in what month in 2007 these questionnaires were sent out but follow-up letters were sent to non-respondents between November 2007 and April 2008 to enquire as to why they did not respond, in which 66 doctors in all responded with the most common reason being lack of time to complete the survey. Overall the response rate was 42.1% with specialists in palliative medicine being the most responsive with 67.3% of people returning their questionnaire, along with specialists in the care of the elderly (48.1%) neurologists (42.9%) other hospital specialties (40.1%) and GPs (39.3%). Despite the large sample of people, 42.1% of replies are quite disappointing, although it is a very emotive subject.Attitudes Towards Euthanasia Literature Review

The questions consisted of personal questions such as age, gender, grade, ethnic origin, and speciality of the respondent and, on average, the number of deaths attended. They were all asked four questions about their attitude towards euthanasia and assisted suicide, in order to obtain the questionnaire in full the author of the survey invited people to contact him. An email was sent: Appendix (a) and a reply was received the next day: Appendix (b). Previous surveys regarding this subject were performed in the Netherlands, Oregon (USA) and Belgium majority support from the medical profession has been important in passing permissive legislation in these countries.

The keywords used in this study were assisted dying; euthanasia; physician-assisted suicide; right to die and terminal care. The distribution of questionnaires meant that the methodology used was right as it was discreet and reached a lot of people in a short amount of time, the only danger with this method was that the medical professionals did not have to respond which was shown in the return response of 42.1% there was no financial or other incentive as this would go against all ethical considerations. Ethical approval for this study was granted by the South East Research Ethics Committee. The results showed that those who were specialists in palliative medicine were more opposed to euthanasia or PAS being legalised than the other specialities, although this could be down to the higher response rate in this area. Those that expressed their religious beliefs were more opposed to the legalisation also. The study showed that the most widely held view was that British doctors do not support legalising assisted dying in either euthanasia or PAS; this differs from the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey which has tracked changes in public opinion since 1984, and is the most consistent source of data (http://www.britsocat.com).Attitudes Towards Euthanasia Literature Review

The second paper reviewed is ‘Survey of doctors’ opinions of the legalisation of physician assisted suicide’ by William Lee, Annabel Price, Lauren Rayner and Matthew Hotopf from the Institute of Psychiatry. King’s College, London. The protocol is similar to the first paper in that they were looking at practitioners’ opinions on euthanasia and PAS. The article begins by saying that there is wide support among the general public for assisted dying but not so much for those who care for the dying. The methodology was to send out a postal survey of a 1000 senior consultants and medical practitioners were selected randomly from the commercially available ‘Informa Healthcare Medical Directory (2005/2006), retired doctors were excluded from the survey. Questionnaire were sent firstly in February 2007, 12 weeks later, in May, non-respondents were contacted and then six weeks later they were telephoned, it was discovered that that some of the possible contributors had moved, died or retired. This information was adjusted to take this into account. The authors completed separate univariable (a single variable) and multivariable (containing more than one variable) predicting the outcomes using polytomous methods which would allow two outcomes to be predicted together.

The response rate to the survey was 50% once the exclusions were accounted for, which is higher than the first paper and still gave a lot of date to work with. Included in the survey the authors included a brief outline of the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill (2006) 32% of the doctors who responded had read some of the Bill. Gender, speciality and years in post had no effect on opposition or support for a new law. An interesting point noted is that the views of doctors who do not care for the dying tally with the general publics view, so there is some correlation there with 66% of those who never cared for the dying supporting a change in the law. The outcome of interest for the authors was to what level practitioners agreed with the statement: “The law should not be changed to allow assisted suicide”.

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A second outcome of interest was the level of agreement with the statement “I would be prepared to prescribe a fatal drug to a terminally ill patient who was suffering unbearably, were that course of action to become legal”. (Hotopf, et. al. 2007:3). The findings of this questionnaire can be found in Appendix (c). Both of these questions were determined using five-point Likert-type scales, used commonly in questionnaires, following this were converted into three-point scales comprising of ‘agree’, ‘neither agree nor disagree’ and ‘disagree’ with a change in law. The survey shows that senior doctors are split abut their views regarding a change in the law; fewer are in favour than the general public in the United Kingdom. These findings have been noted in the US, as well as Canada, Finland and the Netherlands as well as the UK. Ethical permission was gained from the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London Research Ethics Committee.Attitudes Towards Euthanasia Literature Review

Comparisons and Conclusions

There are many comparisons between the two papers, for example, both sent out questionnaires to their target group, who were specialists in certain fields. However, the first paper surveyed over double the amount of people the second paper did but got less replies. Both studies were done in the same year but it is difficult to tell who started theirs first as the date for first paper is unknown other than it was performed in 2007. The second survey is far more in depth that the first one, and it suggests that qualitative research is needed to understand doctors’ views better whereas the first paper did not state which the preferred method was. The second paper suggests that doctors who oppose a change in the law comes from an ‘over-optimistic’ credence in their ability to relieve the suffering of the dying. (Hotopf, et.al. 2007). It is possible to argue against this though and the knowledge and experience of patients who are dying influences views about PAS. Both compare the attitudes between the general public and the specialist doctors and note a big difference between them. On the whole both papers conducted a thorough and precise survey but there is room for further research and investigation.Attitudes Towards Euthanasia Literature Review

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