Public are being 'scared' into supporting assisted suicide - doctors

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Doctors have warned that the debate on assisted suicide is being skewed by "exaggerated reporting" in the media and a lack of accurate information about end of life care.

The Association of Palliative Medicine (APM) surveyed members at the end of last year and found widespread concern about the possibility of assisted suicide being legalised in the UK.

The majority (87%) of doctors said that there were not enough stories in the media about "good deaths".

One doctor said that the current campaign to legalise assisted suicide was "generating fear", while another raised concern over the "huge bias" in reporting the "misery" of deaths at the expense of stories exploring "good palliative care and good deaths".

One doctor added: "I wish there would be a lot more publicity and promotion about all positive experiences of death and dying that occur across the country.

"Most of the time the bad ones hit the news and overshadow all the good work that's carried out by palliative care teams."

APM said the study showed that palliative care clinicians do not want to participate in an assisted suicide, and that they remain uncertain about what changing the law would mean for them, their profession and patients.

The organisation is calling for better awareness of palliative care and an "improved media narrative".

The study reads, "The legalisation of assisted suicide could be undermined significantly if patients were not being frightened by hard cases in the media, and instead understood that, in the majority of cases, good palliative care can facilitate a good death."

APM Chair, Dr Amy Proffitt, said that parts of the media were painting "a grossly misleading picture" of palliative care.

"Stories about good deaths, available treatments and how to access end-of-life care are largely sacrificed in favour of those that focus on negative outcomes, which unfortunately are scaring vulnerable patients," she said.

"This is then compounded by failing to ask why these issues occurred. For example, was the patient able to access all the services they needed?

"For any clinician, this is the obvious first question, because we know that around one in four people who would benefit from palliative care do not receive it."

She added, "The message from our member is clear and overwhelming. We must redouble our effort to engage with our patients about the benefits of palliative care and stop scaring vulnerable patients with isolated and misleading reports about slow, miserable painful deaths."