OBJECTIVES: To ascertain which conditions nurses believe should be in a law allowing active voluntary euthanasia (AVE). DESIGN: Survey questionnaire posted to registered nurses (RNs). SETTING: Australian Capital Territory (ACT) at the end of 1996, when active voluntary euthanasia was legal in the Northern Territory. SURVEY SAMPLE: A random sample of 2,000 RNs, representing 54 per cent of the RN population in the ACT. MAIN MEASURES: Two methods were used to look at nurses' opinions. The first involved four vignettes which varied in terms of critical characteristics of each patient who was requesting help to die. The respondents were asked if the law should be changed to allow any of these requests. There was also a checklist of conditions, most of which have commonly been included in Australian proposed laws on AVE. The respondents chose those which they believed should apply in a law on AVE. RESULTS: The response rate was 61%. Support for a change in the law to allow AVE was 38% for a young man with AIDS, 39% for an elderly man with early stage Alzheimer's disease, 44% for a young woman who had become quadriplegic and 71% for a middle-aged woman with metastases from breast cancer. The conditions most strongly supported in any future AVE law were: "second doctor's opinion", "cooling off period", "unbearable protracted suffering", "patient fully informed about illness and treatment" and "terminally ill". There was only minority support for "not suffering from treatable depression", "administer the fatal dose themselves" and "over a certain age". CONCLUSION: Given the lack of support for some conditions included in proposed AVE laws, there needs to be further debate about the conditions required in any future AVE bills.