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Title: The Attitude of Flemish Palliative Care Physicians to Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide
Subtitle: An Empirical Study
Author(s): BROECKAERT, Bert , GIELEN, Joris , VAN IERSEL, Trudie , VAN DEN BRANDEN, Stef
Journal: Ethical Perspectives
Volume: 16    Issue: 3   Date: September 2009   
Pages: 311-335
DOI: 10.2143/EP.16.3.2042717

Abstract :
Surveys carried out among palliative care physicians have shown that most participants do not support euthanasia and assisted suicide. Belgium, however, is one of the few countries in the world in which voluntary euthanasia is allowed by law. The potential influence of this legal dimension thus warranted a study of the attitudes of Belgian palliative care physicians toward euthanasia and assisted suicide. To this end, an anonymous self-administered questionnaire in Dutch was sent to all physicians (n=147) working in Flemish palliative care. 99 physicians responded (67.3%).
A majority of the physicians who responded are of the opinion that voluntary euthanasia can be ethically justified (79%). Most physicians believe, nonetheless, that non-voluntary euthanasia is always unethical (67%). More than three quarters of the respondents favour the inclusion of a ‘palliative filter’ in the law on euthanasia. Using a traditional cluster algorithm, the following three clusters were obtained: staunch advocates of euthanasia (48 physicians, 52.2%), opponents of euthanasia (12 physicians, 13%), and an intermediate group (32 physicians, 34.8%). There were no significant differences between the clusters on the level of gender, age, and years of experience in palliative care. A statistically significant association exists, however, between the euthanasia clusters and the religious or ideological clusters we had obtained in an earlier study. Church attending respondents are least likely to be staunch advocates of euthanasia. The majority of the physicians favour legalisation on assisted suicide. There is no significant association between the euthanasia clusters and attitudes toward assisted suicide.
We conclude that although most Flemish palliative care physicians agree that there may be circumstances in which a euthanasia request is justified, they also strongly believe in the effects of good palliative care and want the ‘palliative filter’ to be included in the law on euthanasia. Religion and worldview are an important factor determining attitudes towards euthanasia.

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