Most New Zealanders support euthanasia, study suggests

A majority of New Zealanders support euthanasia, according to a new study.

More than 15,000 people took part in the 2014/15 New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study which, for the first time, included a question on assisted dying.

Respondents were asked: "Suppose a person has a painful incurable disease. Do you think that doctors should be allowed by law to end the patient's life if the patient requests it?"

Sixty-six percent of participants were in support, 21.7 percent indicated they were neutral/unsure and 12.3 percent were strongly opposed.

The researchers found non-religious, younger, employed, and rural people were more likely to support euthanasia, whereas people with lower income, who were parents, or of Pacific or Asian ethnicity tended to be less supportive.

"Because we have such a national representative example of New Zealanders, findings of our study are likely to reflect what the general New Zealand public over the age of 18 think about this issue," study author, University of Auckland masters student, Carol Lee says.

It's encouraging news for Voluntary Euthanasia Society representative Faye Clark, who fears dying a long, painful death as a result of her myeloma - a cancer which is destroying her bones.

"It would be wonderful if I could have physician-assisted dying," Ms Clark says.

"Dying in pain would be pointless. I know I'm going to die and I'd like to die well and I'd like to die with some sort of dignity."

But Euthanasia-Free NZ is concerned it would put pressure on vulnerable people.

"We've found people often confuse what euthanasia means," says executive officer Renee Joubert. "Some people think it's giving pain relief, switching off machines or withdrawing treatment."

She also says the phrasing of the question, suggesting the patient had a painful illness, was emotive.

"The result should not infer support for a law change," says Ms Joubert.

A health select committee is currently investigating public attitudes to voluntary euthanasia in response to a petition presented to Parliament by former Labour MP Maryan Street.

The study was published in the New Zealand Medical Journal on Friday.