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GP views harden over assisted dying

GP attitudes have hardened against physician-assisted suicide, with only a quarter now supporting a change in the law to allow it.

The findings represent a significant shift post-Shipman, after a 1994 study published in the BMJ found half of GPs would consider action to help patients end their lives.

The survey of 1,202 GPs in Wales ­ the largest assessment ever taken of GP opinion in the UK ­ also found just one in five GPs would be prepared to prescribe lethal medication. Only one in eight said they would administer lethal medication themselves, suggesting a change in the law would meet widespread resistance on the ground.

The findings follow last month's decision by peers to defer until the autumn Lord Joffe's Bill calling for the legalisation of assisted dying.

Baroness Ilora Finlay, a member of the research team and professor of palliative care medicine at the University of Cardiff, said the results confirmed most GPs' views that a law change would undermine the principle of 'first do no harm'.

Baroness Finlay said research suggested helping patients die was stressful. 'According to Dutch research, after performing euthanasia 42 per cent of doctors report feelings of discomfort, and 43 per cent later sought support,' she added.

The RCGP, which is opposed to assisted dying, said the new findings, published in June's British Journal of General Practice, rang true.

Professor Mayur Lakhani, RCGP chair, said: 'The college does not support a change in legislation for these reasons.'

But Dr Paddy Glackin, a GP in Brent, north-west London, who is in favour of assisted dying, argued GPs' views should not dictate policy.

'Other research has shown the large majority of patients support assisted dying.

'Plenty of GPs do not agree with abortion but it doesn't mean we should stop doing it,' he said.

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