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J Med Ethics 32:706-710 doi:10.1136/jme.2006.015883
  • Law, ethics and medicine

What people close to death say about euthanasia and assisted suicide: a qualitative study

  1. A Chapple1,
  2. S Ziebland1,
  3. A McPherson1,
  4. A Herxheimer2
  1. 1DIPEx, Department of Primary Health Care, University of Oxford, Headington, Oxford, UK
  2. 29 Park Crescent, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 A Chapple
 DIPEx, Department of Primary Health Care, University of Oxford, Old Road Campus, Headington, Oxford OX3 7LF, UK; alison.chapple{at}dphpc.ox.ac.uk
  • Received 16 January 2006
  • Accepted 23 February 2006
  • Revised 21 February 2006

Abstract

Objective: To explore the experiences of people with a “terminal illness”, focusing on the patients’ perspective of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Method: A qualitative study using narrative interviews was conducted throughout the UK. The views of the 18 people who discussed euthanasia and assisted suicide were explored. These were drawn from a maximum variation sample, who said that they had a “terminal” illness, malignant or non-malignant.

Results: That UK law should be changed to allow assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia was felt strongly by most people. Those who had seen others die were particularly convinced that this should be a right. Some had multiple reasons, including pain and anticipated pain, fear of indignity, loss of control and cognitive impairment. Those who did not want to be a burden also had other reasons for wanting euthanasia. Suicide was contemplated by a few, who would have preferred a change in the law to allow them to end their lives with medical help and in the company of family or friends. The few who opposed a change in UK law, or who felt ambivalent, focused on involuntary euthanasia, cited religious reasons or worried that new legislation might be open to abuse.

Conclusion: Qualitative research conducted on people who know they are nearing death is an important addition to the international debate on euthanasia and assisted suicide. Those who had seen others die were particularly convinced that the law should be changed to allow assisted death.

Footnotes

  • i Airedale NHS Trust v Bland (1993) AC 789.

  • Competing interests: AM and AH are cofounders of DIPEx (www.dipex.org) and all authors are on the DIPEx steering group. This does not, however, represent a conflict of interest for this paper.

  • Ethics approval: Eastern MREC, House No 1, Papworth Hospital NHS Trust, Papworth Everard, Cambridge CB3 8RE, UK, approved the protocol.

    Written consent: All the patients quoted in this manuscript gave written consent to use their interviews in publications, education, lectures and broadcasting.