home help us A-Z books

Sometimes a Small Victory

Research by the University of Glasgow into Physician Assisted Suicide


Euthanasia, assisted suicide, the right to die...

We regret Sometimes a Small Victory is currently out of print.

Major new academic study concludes that arguments in favour of physician assisted suicide outweigh those against

Medics supporting a change in the law outnumber those against

Public would prefer doctors to take the final action at the patient's request, but doctors favour the patient taking the final action

New surveys support a change in the law - a Bill proposed

Cautious Bill with extensive safeguards

Chris Docker of the Scottish Voluntary Euthanasia Society said: "This is the first time the subject has been examined in such depth in the UK. We are very heartened by the results. It provides politicians with the ammunition they need to approach such issues responsibly, and reach a compassionate response when all palliative options have been exhausted."


Glasgow University: Glasgow University's Institute of Law & Ethics in Medicine today released the results of its year-long intensive study into the pros and cons of the physician-assisted suicide debate. The Report, called Sometimes a Small Victory, which is over 200 pages long, includes a thorough examination of the relevant legal, medical and ethical dilemmas, together with two surveys that reveal current feelings of the public at large and also within the medical profession.

Concluding that people wish to see the issues debated and many would welcome legal change, the report includes a draft Bill which the researchers call a "legislative template" for moving forward.

Highlights: The Report disagrees with the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics, and says: "...the arguments against legislation are not of sufficient weight to tip the scales against the arguments in favour, but they must be accorded consideration in the drafting of any legislation which would produce change. This is no easy task, but one which must be undertaken."

Surveys: When asked about preferred methods, 42% preferred voluntary euthanasia and 28% assisted suicide (22% had no preference). In a separate, postal survey of UK medical practitioners and pharmacists, 54% were in favour of a change in the law to allow physician-assisted suicide to take place in specific circumstances, with only 36% against. 60% of the 1000 practitioners who responded had treated a patient who was considering suicide, 12% personally knew another health professional who had assisted a patient to kill themselves and 4% had themselves provided the means (such as drugs or information about lethal acts) to assist a patient to kill themselves.

One interesting finding of the second study was that most medical practitioners found physician-assisted suicide preferable to voluntary euthanasia (43% in comparison to 19%), especially in view of the findings in the first study which showed the public's preference for voluntary euthanasia.

There was little by way of differences in the percentages of hospital physicians, medical GPs, surgeons or psychiatrists favouring a change in the law - approximately 48% were in favour. This was in stark contrast to the percentage of pharmacists in favour (72%) and anaesthetists (56%). Pharmacists were twice as likely as medical GPs to endorse the view that "if a patient has decided to end their own life then doctors should be allowed in law to assist."

Definitions: Assisted suicide: this is where the person who wants to die takes their own life with the help of a doctor who provides the means of death: i.e., a prescription for drugs. It is the action of the person himself or herself which leads to their own death, at the time and place of their choice. Voluntary euthanasia: this is where the person decides they want to die and is helped to die by someone such as a doctor or other medical staff, friends or family. It is the actions of the other person that lead to death.


Death is sometimes a small victory" - Chinese proverb

by Sheila A.M. McLean & Alison Britton

(Sheila McLean is International Bar Association Professor of Law & Ethics in Medicine and Director of the Institute of Law & Ethics in Medicine; Alison Britton is a Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow)

Sometimes a Small Victory is published by the Institute of Law & Ethics in Medicine at Glasgow University.

Draft Bill Related work Related books by same author: 1, 2.