Do we need education on right-to-die issues? Medical perspectives from Australia
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Background: An increasing demand for physicians' involvement in life-ending decisions has led to extensive debate on euthanasia and right to die issues by social, political and medical groups. By definition, suicide prevention experts are considered to be pre-judgmentally biased on these aspects. However, their knowledge of the fields could actually make them important interlocutors in the debate. Aim: As a part of Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care's commission, an evaluation of the need for educating undergraduate medical students on suicide prevention, euthanasia and life-ending issues was performed. Methods: In Australia, semi-structured interviews were conducted on samples of medical schools coordinators, medical students, and general practitioners (GPs). Specifically, key academics in Curriculum and /or Accreditation Committees from 10 out of 15 Australian Medical Schools (AMS) participated in a survey on the possible implementation of suicide prevention, euthanasia and life-ending issues in undergraduate courses. University of Queensland medical students (n = 373) were asked to rate their attitude toward the same issues. Twenty four GPs from 6 different states (rural/urban environments) were asked to rate the level of importance of a specific curriculum on suicide prevention, euthanasia and life-ending issues. Results: Suicide prevention education was perceived of critical importance by all. Medical students showed high interest in learning about euthanasia and life-ending issues (76.8%), quality of life and quality of death (85.1%), and different types of euthanasia and physician assisted suicide (70%). They reported that physicians should be involved in ending-life decisions (89%). Forty per cent of AMS thought education on euthanasia and life-ending issues was essential. Fifty four per cent of GPs considered education in euthanasia and related issues as a high priority. Conclusions: The increasing aging population and the high prevalence of chronic illness call for a growing involvement of physicians in this difficult area of medical practice. Globally, the need for undergraduate education on these matters is perceived as important and urgent.
Copyright 2012 Blackwell Publishing Asia. This is the pre-peer reviewed version of the following article: Do we need education on right-to-die issues? Medical Perspectives from Australia, Asia Pacific Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 4(1), 2012, pp. 10-19, which has been published in final form at dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1758-5872.2011.00174.x.