Study: New Zealand medical students more likely to oppose assisted suicide with more education

By Texas Right to Life

New Zealand, like many other industrialized nations, legalized assisted suicide. As in other places that have made the killing of some patients legal, many doctors are refusing to participate

Anti-Life politicians may be able to convince themselves that killing ill patients instead of treating them is “compassionate,” but the doctors who actually have to administer the lethal drug do not have the luxury of euphemisms. Many doctors have moral objections to ending the lives of patients whom they took an oath to treat. 

In New Zealand, like many other nations, a greater percentage of the general population supports assisted suicide than the percentage of doctors who support legal killing of ill patients. Researchers at Otago University conducted a study to try to identify some of the factors that contribute to this divide.

The study, published in BMC Medical Education, surveyed 326 medical students at Otago University about their views on assisted suicide. The study also included qualitative results through in-depth questions with some study participants.

The results found that 65% of second-year medical students supported assisted suicide, yet only 39% of fifth-year medical students were supportive. The reason for this dramatic change was not clear, but the qualitative results indicate that for many students “an aspect of medical school” was a major influence. 

The study authors concluded that smaller percentage of support for assisted suicide among doctors “is in part related to medical education and medical work rather than age, personality, or social context.”

Study author Simon Walker, elaborated. “We suggest that this difference is most likely due to their time in medical education.” He told the New Zealand news outlet Stuff that the focus of doctors’ work likely played a role in how they viewed assisted suicide. Walker said, “Their whole orientation is to try and make things better, and ending a person’s life doesn’t feel that way.”

The study notes that many students “at all year levels cited an aspect of medical school as having influenced their views.” While this was mentioned by students who supported, opposed, or were neutral with regard to assisted suicide, “it was the type of influence most often mentioned by those who were opposed.” 

The difference between years indicates that there is a causal relationship between medical training and opposition to assisted suicide.

Stuff observed that by the fifth year, medical students were having more face-to-face interactions with patients and had completed more training in bioethics and palliative care. The way these subjects are currently taught in New Zealand, doctors do not endorse a position for or against assisted suicide, yet the training seems to influence students’ opinions. 

The opposition to assisted suicide among medical students demonstrates a trend among doctors. A 2018 study of 298 practicing New Zealand doctors found that only 34.5% would be willing to prescribe lethal medication. This follows similar trends to other places, like Hawaii, in which assisted suicide has been legalized but doctors refuse to participate.

In Texas, assisted suicide is not legal, protecting vulnerable patients from pressure to end their lives. However, Texas remains vigilant to prevent the intrusion of anti-Life lobbyists who advocate for assisted suicide across the globe. 

More importantly, Texas Right to Life continues to lead efforts to repeal the anti-Life “10-Day Rule” which unconstitutionally takes life-and-death decisions away from vulnerable Texas patients. An inmate on death row has more recourse to defending Life than a patient under the draconian 10-Day Rule. 

In order to prevent the anti-Life death onslaught of legal assisted suicide, Texans must shore up protection for Life today by reforming this unjust, anti-Life law.

As demonstrated again with the recent study of New Zealand medical students, science and medicine are on the side of Life. Pro-Lifers must stand against the anti-Life bias in the mainstream media to advocate for Life at every state, from conception to natural death.