The proportion of medical students in
Austria who are sympathetic to voluntary euthanasia has more than tripled in
the past ten years. According to researchers at the Medical University of Graz
acceptance of active euthanasia increased from 16.3% to 29.1% to 49.5% in the
periods from 2001 to 2003/04 to 2008/09. In the general population it rose from
about 49% to 62% between 2000 and 2009.

Why the steep rise? The researchers believe
that students now respect autonomy of the patient and the beneficence of the
doctor more than ethical convictions.

“In this respect, the attitudes of the future
physicians seem to draw nearer to the approach prevailing in Dutch euthanasia
practice of which van Delden et al report:
“… that the request of the patient is not the only basis for the physician’s
decision … Euthanasia, therefore, is always based on both autonomy and
beneficence … In such cases of extreme suffering, life might justifiably be
terminated without the patient’s explicit request.”

“In the last few decades there has been a shift in
attitude towards more freedom and individual judgement based on a liberal view
of the world, while religious convictions are declining. Recent studies have
shown that this shift plays a decisive role in the rising acceptance of
euthanasia.”

Journal of Medical
Ethics, April

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet.