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Why does medical education change how some students view Euthanasia/Assisted Dying?

4 months
Approved budget:
Mr Luke Nie
Dr Kelby Smith-Han
Dr Simon Walker
Proposal type:
Ethics Summer Studentships
Lay summary
Euthanasia or assisted dying (EAD) involves administering or prescribing a lifeending substance to a person. Soon New Zealanders will vote on whether EAD should be lawful in New Zealand. Data suggests that the majority of New Zealanders will vote in favour of this proposed law. However, national and international studies have found that a majority of doctors are opposed. Medical students are in a transitional state between the general public and doctors. A 2018 study (paper in process) of Otago Medical School students found that 5th year students were less likely to support EAD than 2nd years. This finding is consistent with similar overseas studies, and suggests that doctors’ views on EAD are unlikely to be due entirely to factors such as personality or moral conservatism, but may instead relate to clinical experience or medical education. Qualitative research of medical students’ views of EAD will provide insight into which specific aspects of medical education are behind this change of views, and in turn why doctors are more likely to be opposed compared to the general public. In the 2018 study, 30 open-ended interviews were conducted following the survey. The proposed study will analyse the transcripts of these interviews, and undertake followup interviews with the participants, who will now have experienced two further years of medical work. Euthanasia is a highly sensitive topic of deep significance to those providing and receiving end-of-life care. It raises particular considerations for Māori and vulnerable populations, including older adults. Examining what specific elements of medical education drives the observed change in attitude towards EAD will be important to future public debate, and any future law changes. It will also provide information about how New Zealand’s future medical workforce will be affected by laws allowing EAD.