AMA challenged to survey doctors on mercy deaths

A VOLUNTARY euthanasia group has called on the Australian Medical Association to survey its members on assisted death.

Dying with Dignity Victoria said a survey just published by Medscape of doctors in the United States and Europe found for the first time that most (54%) favoured aid in dying, backing the rights of patients with an incurable illness to seek "a dignified death".

A similar survey conducted by Medscape in 2010 found 46% of doctors agreed with the notion of assisted death.

Medscape, owned by WebMD, is an online resource for doctors.

The recent survey included over 21,000 doctors, over 17,000 in the United States and 4000 in Europe.

It was conducted in September to November 2014.

DWDV vice-president Dr Rodney Syme said it is time for the AMA to put facts into their statements on what doctors want rather than hiding behind what it simply thinks members believe.

"It is clear that medical opinion is divided and the AMA should reflect this by surveying all doctors and at least move to a position of neutrality on assisted dying.

"For the last 15 years at appropriate times, I have been calling on the AMA to do just this, but the association has never considered it relevant to seek the views of all members - or indeed of the whole medical body in Australia.

"At the very least, the AMA should be moving towards a position of neutrality on the issue rather than condemning assisted dying when they have no idea of what doctors in Australia really want."

Do you support assisted deaths?

This poll ended on 19 January 2015.

Current Results

Yes. Where there is no hope of survival


No. It sets a dangerous precedent


Just don't know yet


We need more debate on issue


This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Dr Syme said it is noteworthy that in August last year the Canadian Medical Association changed its official policy to say it supports the idea of physicians - within the bounds of existing law - following their conscience when asked to provide aid in dying. 

The Canadian Medical Association has consulted medical associations in jurisdictions around the world where euthanasia or assisted suicide is legal to devise possible protocols for Canada if the federal law is changed.

The Supreme Court of Canada could strike out that country's ban on assisted suicide and give Parliament one year to craft new legislation, as it did with prostitution.

Dr Syme said plain talk by doctors when patients are near death or suffering intolerably can go a long way to reduce their pain, both physical and psychological.

He said previous Australian surveys of doctors on assisted dying found support for legislative change.

Polls published in peer-reviewed journals from 1988 to 2008 involving doctors in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, and the Northern Territory showed support by doctors to change the law ranging from 45% to 62%.