Majority of Brits want assisted suicide legalised as new poll reveals strong support for change in the law across Europe
Survey shows majority support for 'right to die' legislation in 12 European countriesSeventy one per cent of Brits want assisted dying to be legally permitted
Swiss body behind poll says results show current laws do not reflect public opinion
16:34 GMT, 30 November 2012
Nearly three quarters of British people are in favour of legalising assisted suicide according to a new poll – which shows strong support for a change in the law across Europe.
The survey, carried out on behalf of the Swiss Medical Lawyers Association
(SMLA), found large majorities in the 12 west European countries involved supported the right of people to choose when and how they die.
Two-thirds to three-quarters of respondents said they could imagine opting for assisted suicide themselves if they suffered from an incurable illness, serious disability or uncontrollable pain.
Campaign: Tony Nicklinson, who suffered from locked-in syndrome, lost a legal battle for the right to be helped to end his life when he chooses earlier this year. He died just days after the High Court judgement
In Britain, 71 per cent said they might seek assisted suicide while Greece was the most reluctant with 56 per cent saying they might do so.
The practice is now allowed in only four countries on the continent, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands
and Switzerland. The German government has proposed legalising the practice as
long as no profit is involved – while France is also debating whether to allow
'In practically all European countries, many signs indicate that the prevailing legal system no longer reflects the will of large parts of the population on this issue,' the SMLA said.
The body said the results of its poll 'should allow politicians to take democratic principles into account when considering legislation on these issues.'
Assisted suicide is now allowed only in Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Switzerland. The German government has proposed legalising it as long as no profit is involved, while France is also debating whether to allow it.
Journey: Terminally ill people from Britain and other European countries have travelled to the Dignitas clinic in Zurich, Switzerland, for assistance in taking their own life
In both Germany and France, the Roman
Catholic and Protestant churches oppose legalising assisted dying and
argue for better palliative care to ease pain for dying patients.
The study was conducted by the Swiss pollster Isopublic in Austria, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.
It did not survey the four European countries that allow assisted suicide, or countries in eastern Europe.
Decision: Daniel James died at a clinic run by Dignitas in September 2008, more than a year after a rugby accident which left him paralysed from the chest down
Germans were most in favour of the right to decide when and how they die, with 87 percent supporting the idea.
Greece was the only exception to this strong support, with only 52 percent backing the idea of allowing assisted suicide.
Spaniards were the most willing to consider asking for help to die, with 78 percent support, followed closely by Germans (77 percent) and the French (75 percent).
More than three-quarters of those
polled in all countries said only doctors or trained practitioners
should perform assisted suicides.
A majority of all respondents said
doctors should not lose their licenses if they help a patient die.
Results ranged from 84 percent in Britain to 58 percent in Greece.
About 30 percent of those polled thought dying patients might occasionally be pressured by relatives or doctors into accepting assisted suicide if it is legalised, while roughly 30 percent thought this would almost never happen.
In Germany, where the government's bill is now being debated in parliament, 76 percent said the proposed law was wrong to ban assisted suicide if the doctor is paid for the service.
The bill would not punish those helping patients commit suicide, for example by accompanying them to Switzerland where assisted suicide has been legal since 1942.
A rise in the number of foreigners – particularly from Germany, France and Britain – ending their lives there has prompted calls for tighter laws, but Zurich voters rejected in 2010 a proposed ban on what opponents called 'suicide tourism.'
In the United States, assisted suicide is allowed in Oregon, Washington and Montana. Massachusetts voters narrowly defeated a proposal to legalise it there this month.