Senior doctors' opinions of rational suicide

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Abstract

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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