1 in 3 Surgeons in Australia Hastens Patients´ Death

Many Don´t Bother with Consultation, Study Reveals

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SYDNEY, Australia, NOV. 21, 2001 (Zenit.org).- A third of Australia´s surgeons hasten the death of terminal patients by administering excessive doses of painkillers -- and many do so without consulting their patients, a new study says.



The surgeons admitted the practise despite the fact that euthanasia is illegal in Australia, the study notes.

The Newcastle University study surveyed two-thirds of Australian surgeons. It found that 36% of those surveyed said they have acted illegally by intentionally speeding up the death of a patient with painkillers.

In the wake of the study, doctors have called for a national review of euthanasia laws.

More than half of the doctors who hastened the deaths -- about 20% of the surgeons interviewed -- said the patients had not asked to die sooner. This fact could give victims´ relatives the grounds for legal action against the doctors.

The study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, and reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, is one of the first outside of the Netherlands to extend the examination of assisted deaths to cases where there is no specific request by patients.

Authors of the study discovered that a determinant factor in the choice is the doctor´s faith. Catholic doctors are far less likely to opt for assisted euthanasia. They are followed, at some distance, by Jews and Protestants.

More than 46% of respondents who specified "no religion" said they had given drugs in doses greater than those required, to relieve symptoms with the intention of hastening a patient´s death.

This compared with 19.3% of Catholic, 33.9% of Protestant, and 33.3% of Jewish surgeons, who said they did the same thing. Thirty-six percent of surgeons of other religious affiliations said they practiced euthanasia.

Asked if they would administer drugs to keep a patient comfortable even if it "incidentally" hastened the patient´s death, all the Jewish surgeons, and more than 92% of the other doctors with religious ties, said yes.

The survey results show that one in 25 of Australian surgeons has given a lethal injection to a patient who requested it, and one in 50 admits to having given a patient the means to commit suicide.

The results were first presented to the annual scientific congress of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons in Melbourne in May 2000.