New research suggests many New Zealand GPs are making decisions likely to hasten the death of their terminally ill patients.
It comes as a ONE News Colmar Brunton poll shows most voters feel dying patients should be able to turn to their doctor for assistance to end their lives.
Auckland University research, published in today's New Zealand Medical Journal, asked doctors about the last death they'd attended.
Of 650 GPs who responded, 65 per cent reported they'd withdrawn treatment from a patient or alleviated pain in the probability it may hasten death; 16 per cent said they'd actively withheld treatments so as not to prolong life and four per cent (16 doctors) reported prescribing a drug with the explicit purpose of hastening death.
While firmly anti-euthanasia, the New Zealand Medical Association Chair Dr Stephen Child told ONE News "that such actions to alleviate suffering, to give medications to patients to support them is well within the ethical boundaries of their profession".
Dr Child says in most cases in the study it was "the administration of pain relief or sedation given to a patient that was expected to die within one or two days" and that the GPs were "relieving suffering as their primary action".
The NZMA says what was surprising was the fact that in 15 of the 16 cases where GPs had prescribed a drug with the explicit purpose of hastening death, it was a nurse who actually administered the drug to the dying patient.
Massey University Professor of Nursing Jenny Carryer says this is because "nurses are the people who are with patients 24-7 and are therefore intimately involved in these kinds of decisions".
Meanwhile a ONE News Colmar Brunton poll shows 75 per cent of 1000 voters polled said they feel a patient should be able to request a doctor's assistance to end their life. Twenty-one per cent said no and five per cent were undecided.
The Health Select Committee has this week announced it's to hold an inquiry into public attitudes on the issue of assisted dying and possible legislation surrounding it.