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How many doctors would help people to die?

24 May 18

How many doctors would help people to die?
Enough GPs will assist dying

A submission to a Parliamentary Select Committee has cited Horizon Researh on how many doctors might help people end their lives, if this is made legal.


Results of the research, conducted by Horizon among  general pratitoners subscribing to New Zealand Doctor magazine, was presented orally to the Health Select Committee on May 21, 2018, on behalf of End of Life Choice Society Dr Jack Havill, a retired Intensive Care Medicine Specialist of Waikato.


His submission summary reads:


"If the EOLC Bill comes into law, there are enough Medical Practitioners who support Medical Aid in Dying to allow the EOLC Bill to function adequately.


In March 2018, the ‘NZ Doctor’ publication commissioned an ‘End of Life Choice’ survey by Horizon Research using their subscriber email contacts.


The survey was sent to 1,540 doctor subscribers and 545 responded (35% response rate). The responders included 73.7% General Practitioners (GPs), 17.5% GP Registrars, 3.9% GP locums, and a small number of other doctors.


The object of the questions was to evaluate General Practitioner (GP) support for aspects of the current End of Life Choice Bill (EOLC Bill) being considered by the Justice Select Committee. The questions considered included (with results in brackets):


  1. Assisting death at the request of a patient who has a terminal illness e.g. cancer – support (37%); neither support or oppose or don’t know (11%); oppose 52%
  2. Assisting death at the request of a patient who has unbearable suffering but the disease is not necessarily terminal e.g. motor neurone disease - support (31%); neither support or oppose or don’t know (13%); oppose (56%)
  3. Assisting death where the patient has written an End of Life Choice Directive but has later become incompetent in either of the above situations (1) and (2) e.g. brain tumour, Huntington’s disease – support 36%; neither support or oppose or don’t know (12%); oppose (52%). (This sort of assisted death is not allowed for in the present EOLC Bill).
  4. Assisting death in cases of severe dementia where the patient has written an End of Life Choice Directive while competent e.g. Alzheimer’s Disease – support (30%); neither support or oppose (14%); oppose (56%). (This sort of assisted death is not allowed for in the present EOLC Bill).
  5. Willingness to write a prescription to allow patient to self-ingest causing their death – yes (24%); not sure (18%); no (57%).
  6. Willingness to give a drug intravenously causing death – yes (15%); not sure (17%); no (68%).


These results show that the number of doctors supporting law change, who although in a minority, actually form a substantial group.


In NZ we have about 14,000 medical doctors in total, of which more than 4000 are GPs. In this particular survey, involving mostly GPs, the percentages supporting change in the law in questions 1-4 above were 30 - 37%.


Extrapolating the figures using the lowest percentage of 30%, that means that at least 1200 GPs are supportive to all questions.


In addition, the undecided GPs were 11% - 14%.  Using the lowest percentage, at least another 440 GPs could possibly be involved. These figures make it clear that there are enough GPs alone to make a law such as that proposed to function adequately.


These numbers of course do not include the other 10,000 medical practitioners which could possibly add at least 3000 extra supporters of law change.


With regards to those willing to write a prescription or give an intravenous drug to cause death, the numbers are much smaller but still allow for enough doctors to make the EOLC law workable. The 24% willing to write a prescription represent almost 1000 GPs.


Again the 15% of GPs willing to give an intravenous injection causing death represents 600 GPs. Neither of these figures count the other 10,000 doctors who are not GPs – extrapolating using the same percentages as above, there could be a further 2400 prescription writers and 1500 intravenous givers.


In summary, there are substantial numbers of doctors who will make sure the EOLC law is operable. It is also possible that ‘prescribing nurses’ will be added to the EOLC Act as per the New Zealand Nurses Organisation submission to the Select Committee, on behalf of the 70% of nurses who support assistance in dying legislation."


Results of another poll conducted by Horizon among adults are here.