Last year, New Zealand legalized euthanasia after a referendum overwhelmingly passed. The law is set to take effect this November, but already, the pro-euthanasia lobby is facing issues. Not only are doctors unwilling to kill their patients, but medical students are increasingly opposing euthanasia, as well.
A recently-released study found that the longer medical students were in school, the more likely they were to oppose euthanasia. While 65% of second-year medical students at Otago University supported euthanasia and assisted suicide, only 39% did so in their fifth year. While the students had been influenced by numerous factors, the study notes that the students who opposed euthanasia almost all cited “an aspect of medical school” as a major influence. The study concluded that lower support among doctors “is in part related to medical education and medical work rather than age, personality, or social context.”
Stuff New Zealand pointed out that by their fifth year, medical students are seeing patients face-to-face more often, and are going through classes in palliative and end-of-life care, as well as bioethics. Though these classes are neutral on difficult subjects like assisted suicide and euthanasia, it seemingly has an effect on the medical students.
Simon Walker, one of the Otago researchers, told Stuff that ending a life feels like a contradiction to the medical students. “Their whole orientation is to try and make things better, and ending a person’s life doesn’t feel that way,” he said.
This study comes on the heels of news that less than 30% of Kiwi doctors were “possibly or definitely” willing to commit euthanasia, and kill their patients. Most of the country’s hospices were also unwilling to participate.
The legalization of euthanasia was strongly opposed by many vulnerable groups in New Zealand, including people with disabilities and people fighting terminal illnesses. Tetraplegic model Claire Freeman, for example, said living with a disability had made her suicidal at times, and if doctors had promoted death as an option to her, there were times when she may have accepted.
“I realised that a lot of the advice I had been given, like from the psychologist and from a psychiatrist who saw me after an earlier suicide attempt, was because they were looking at me and just seeing the disability,” she said. “They were not saying, ‘Hey, what’s going on in your life? Are you working too much? Are you in too much pain?’ None of those questions were asked, it was just, ‘Of course she wants to die, she’s in a wheelchair, she’s in pain.’”
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