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What are Norwegians' attitudes towards the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide?
Support was strongest for physician-assisted suicide for patients with a terminal illness and a short life expectancy.
Researchers have recently examined the Norwegian population's attitudes towards the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Euthanasia means that a healthcare professional intentionally causes a person's death. They do so by injecting a lethal drug at the person's request.
Assisted suicide is helping to cause a person's death by providing them with lethal meidcation that they can ingest themselves, at their request.
In Norway, euthanasia and assisted sucicide is illegal, and is defined in the law as murder or helping someone to commit suicide.
"In recent years, several countries, including Spain and Austria, have legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide. It is therefore interesting to see what the Norwegian population thinks about this topic too," Morten Magelssen says. He is an associate professor at the Centre for Medical Ethics at the University of Oslo.
The survey was initiated by the Medical Ethics Council. Researchers at the Centre for Medical Ethics at the University of Oslo, Oslo University Hospital, and NHH Norwegian School of Economics conducted the study.
The degree of support for legalisation varies
"This is the most comprehensive study of Norwegians' attitudes towards the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide that has been conducted," Magelssen says.
In the study, researchers found that the degree of support for legalisation varies depending on the patient situation described in the survey.
The strongest support was found for physician-assisted suicide in cases of terminal illness with a short life expectancy.
"Here, approximately one inthree strongly agreed and one in three slightly agreed with the legalisation of euthanasia. Around one in ten strongly disagreed and one in ten slightly disagreed. The age group of 30-44 years old was the most positive towards legalisation," Magelssen says.
Nuances in Norwegians' attitudes towards euthanasia and assisted suicide
"As in previous studies, there was significant support for the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide, but in this survey, it was possible to grade the support from 'ssomewhat agree' to 'strongly agree'. This has allowed us to capture nuances in people's attitudes towards this topic," Magelssen says.
If the researchers combined those who 'strongly agreed' and 'somewhat agreed' to legalisation of physician-assisted suicide in cases of terminal illnesses with short life expectancy, seven out of ten individuals were in favor of legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide.
But is it reasonable to interpret that all of these individuals want legaisation?
"It is unprecise to classify people who 'somewhat agree' as being 'in favor of euthanasia and assisted suicide'," Magelssen says. "Both those who 'somewhat disagree', 'somewhat agree', and those in the middle who answered 'I neither agree, nor disagree' can be said to have an unclear opinion on the issue of legalising euthanasia. They could be influenced by strong arguments from both sides of the debate."
Aarseth et al. Norwegians' attitudes towards legalising assisted dying, Det norske medicinske Selskab, 2023.
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