The aim of this study was to determine the opinions of private medical practitioners in Bloemfontein, South Africa, regarding euthanasia of terminally ill patients. This descriptive study was performed amongst a simple random sample of 100 of 230 private medical practitioners in Bloemfontein. Information was obtained through anonymous self-administered questionnaires. Written informed consent was obtained. 68 of the doctors selected completed the questionnaire. Only three refused participation because they were opposed to euthanasia. Respondents were mainly male (74.2%), married (91.9%) and Afrikaans-speaking (91.9%). More were specialists (53.2%) than general practitioners (46.8%). A smaller percentage (35.5%) would never consider euthanasia for themselves compared to for their patients (46.8%). The decision should be made by the patient (50%), the patient’s doctor with two colleagues (46.8%), close family (45.2%) or a special committee of specialists in ethics and medicine (37.1%). The majority (46.9%) indicated that euthanasia should be performed by an independent doctor trained in euthanasia, followed by the patient’s doctor (30.7%). Notification should mainly be given to a special committee (49.9%). Only 9.8% felt that no notification was necessary. There was strong opposition to prescribing of medication to let the patient die. Withdrawal of essential medical treatment to speed up death was the most acceptable method. Although the responding group was fairly homogeneous, responses varied widely, indicating the complexity of opinions.
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Funding: This project was supported financially from departmental funds of the Department of Biostatistics, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Competing interests: None.
Ethics approval: The protocol for this investigation was approved by the Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa.
↵i The term “Coloured” refers to an ethnic group of mixed race. The term “Indian” refers to people originating from India on the Asian subcontinent.