Nurses'definitions of and attitudes towards euthanasia


  • Fran McInerney RN BApp Sci(NEd) MA(Hlth Studies),

    Corresponding author
    1. 1Lecturer m Nursing, Tasmania School of Nursing, University of Tasmania, Launceston Tasmania
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  • Carmel Seibold RN RM DipNEd BA MAppSci(Nursing)

    1. 2Lecturer in Nursing, Department of Professional Nursing Development, Australian Catholic University, Mercy Campus, Victoria, Australia
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Fran McInerney, Lecturer in Nursing, Tasmanian School of Nursing, University of Tasmania, PO Box 1214, Launceston Tasmania 7250, Australia


A major impetus for this study was recent literature that assumed that nurses’definitions of euthanasia and consequent opinions on decision making are unproblematic The purpose of this study was to identify nurses’definitions of and attitudes towards euthanasia Ten semi-structured interviews were conducted with nurses working in a variety of clinical practice settings The majority of nurses could distinguish between active and passive euthanasia, but it was only in terms of active euthanasia that the debate was seen as significant It was considered that the term passive euthanasia, particularly in relation to withdrawal of treatment, has served to confuse the real debate centring around active euthanasia Only two participants were in favour of active euthanasia, but emphasized the need for ‘a community of shared responsibility’ in decision making The major finding of the study was the commitment of all participants to caring for and ensuring the comfort of the dying patient The concepts of ordinary and extraordinary forms of treatment and heroic measures were seen as worthy of debate in the context of dying with dignity rather than of euthanasia There was an associated aversion to inappropriate heroic measures, which were perceived as prolonging death and interfering with ‘dying with dignity’ The development of a personal and moral/ethical stance (in relation to euthanasia) was shown to be an evolving process embedded in a caring philosophy and emphasizing the contextual nature of providing appropriate care