From Iceland — Over Three Fourths Of Icelanders Support Right To Assisted Dying

Over Three Fourths Of Icelanders Support Right To Assisted Dying

Published December 12, 2019

Inês Pereira
Photo by
Christian Bickel/Wikimedia Commons

A poll conducted in November this year shows that 77.7% of Icelanders support the practice of assisted dying. The study was made by Lífsvirðingar (“Life of Dignity”), an Icelandic association for the education about assisted dying, and conducted by Maskína. Icelanders also showed to favour the Dutch method for the practice.

In 2017, Lífsvirðingar was born with the purpose of creating awareness and bring forward discussion and education into the subject of euthanasia. The theme was not new to Icelandic society, for already in a 2015 poll 75.5% of the respondents showed support for the practice. Also in 2017, seven members of Parliament, from different parties, came forward in an effort to legalize assisted suicide in the country. For their proposal to be successful they needed 58 letters of support, they received some, including one from the National Association of Senior Citizens, but failed to go forward with the bill.

The Dutch method is the one that retains more popularity between voters. The “Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act” is in practice in The Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia, and Luxembourg. The Dutch were the first to legalise the practice in 2002, making assisted suicide viable if “a physician holds the conviction that the request by the patient was voluntary and well-considered if he holds the conviction that the patient’s suffering was lasting and unbearable, and if the patient holds the conviction that there was no other reasonable solution for the situation he was in.”

From the 2015 poll to the one conducted this year, there were changes in the way that the question was asked, making it more detailed. While in 2015, Icelanders had to answer to “Are you in favour or against that an individual can get help to end their life if he has an incurable disease (palliative death)?”. This year, the people surveyed were asked to respond the following “Do you agree or disagree that an individual can be helped to end their life (assisted dying) if they are suffering from a condition or disease that has been assessed incurable and that they are experiencing to be unbearable?”.

Granted that, in 2019, the majority chose to respond positively, 6,8% said they were highly or rather opposed, and 15.4% were not sure. When questioned about why they opposed assisted suicide, some of the respondents said that it was contrary to the moral and professional obligations of doctors (23.5%), others believed that palliative care was sufficient to alleviate suffering (21.7%), some even stated it was against their moral beliefs (20.4%), but only 3.6% claimed religious reasons. The top concern between participants was that the legalisation of the practice would lead to the misuse of it.

Curiously, people from different age groups, locations and even political parties responded very differently to the survey. While 85% of 18 to 29-year-olds responded in agreement, only 63.4% of people older than 60 years were on the same page. People in Reykjavík represented the biggest percentage of people answering in favour (80.7%), while it was in the city’s neighboring municipalities where the lowest percentages were seen (74.4%), followed by the north of the country (75.5%). Regarding the political views of the participants, a great percentage of The Pirate Party’s voters (86.8%) were positive to the poll in contrast with the voters for The Progressive Party (68.3%).

Assisted suicide raises a lot of questions from all sides of the subject. While some believe it shouldn’t be done by medical professionals because they consider it goes against the Hippocratic oath, others would say that if these professionals swear to “do no harm”, the assisted suicide of patients in irreversible pain is in agreement with the oath.

In 2017 an Australian reader of The Grapevine responded to one of our articles on the same subject with his own experience. He wanted other readers to know that “enforced prolonged life, when the quality of life is lost, is a fate far worse than death”.

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