Context The attitudes of medical professionals towards physician assisted dying have been widely discussed. Less explored is the level of agreement among physicians on the possibility of ‘rational suicide’—a considered suicide act made by a sound mind and a precondition of assisted dying legislation.
Objective To assess attitudes towards rational suicide in a representative sample of senior doctors in England and Wales.
Methods A postal survey was conducted of 1000 consultants and general practitioners randomly selected from a commercially available database. The main outcome of interest was level of agreement with a statement about rational suicide.
Results The corrected participation rate was 50%; 363 questionnaires were analysed. Overall 72% of doctors agreed with the possibility of rational suicide, 17% disagreed, and 11% were neutral. Doctors who identified themselves as being more religious were more likely to disagree. Some doctors who disagreed with legalisation of physician assisted suicide nevertheless agreed with the concept of rational suicide.
Conclusions Most senior doctors in England and Wales feel that rational suicide is possible. There was no association with specialty. Strong religious belief was associated with disagreement, although levels of agreement were still high in people reporting the strongest religious belief. Most doctors who were opposed to physician assisted suicide believed that rational suicide was possible, suggesting that some medical opposition is best explained by other factors such as concerns of assessment and protection of vulnerable patients.
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Funding SG is a clinician supported by East London NHS foundation Trust. AP is supported by St Christopher's Hospice. LR is supported by the European Commission's Sixth Framework Programme (contract No LSHC-CT-2006-037777). GSO is supported by the Wellcome Trust. RDH is funded by the NIHR Specialist Biomedical London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London. MH is supported by the Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health at the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London and The South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. WL is supported by the Medical Research Council.
Competing interests None.
Ethics approval Joint Maudsley Hospital and Institute of Psychiatry Research Ethics Committee (Ref 06/Q0706/36).
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.