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Portugal’s Euthanasia Debate

According to a study by researchers of the Centre for Research in Health Technologies and Services (CINTESIS), published in the Iberoamerican Journal of Bioethics almost 60% of Portuguese doctors are in favour of legalising euthanasia in Portugal.

The research conducted by Sofia da Silva, Luís Azevedo and Miguel Ricou, aims to show the opinions on this very emotive subject.  By analysing the responses of  251 Portuguese doctors from fifteen different hospitals and health centres specialising in a variety of fields, including Anaesthesiology, General and Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Oncology and Psychiatry, regarding the practice and legalisation of euthanasia, they found that the majority were in favour of end of life procedures. Interestingly, the majority of doctors in favour of euthanasia were young, deemed to have less professional experience and have no religious beliefs.

However, it would also appear that the scenarios presented strongly influenced the doctor’s responses, and as Miguel Ricou, a CINTESIS Medical Bioethics and Ethics researcher and professor at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Porto stated ‘The appeal to a specific case is crucial to promote the acceptance of euthanasia.’

While 55% agreed with scenarios of voluntary euthanasia where there was incurable/terminal, disabling illnesses with unbearable pain or suffering, less than 40% agreed with general scenarios of involuntary euthanasia, and only 20% accepted euthanasia for terminally ill adults who still enjoy and are deemed to have a good quality of life.

The results show that patients suffering as a result of the disease were for doctors, a more relevant criterion than respect for autonomy, even though the latter is a condition. For example, in scenarios where euthanasia occurs at the request of the family, i.e. third parties, the procedure is considered ‘unacceptable’ by most doctors says the CINTESIS researcher.

According to the researchers, this study reinforces the idea that, regardless of the apparent evolution of the concept of a ‘good death,’ euthanasia is still a controversial topic, representing a medical and social problem in Portugal, and that more studies on the subject are needed.

The full findings of this study can be read in the Iberoamerican Journal of Bioethics.

Samantha Gannon

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Madeira Weekly