More than one in five Dutch people believe that euthanasia should be allowed for elderly people who are "tired of living", new research suggests.

Of 2000 Dutch people polled, 21 per cent said euthanasia should be allowed for people who no longer wish to live - even if they do not have a serious disease.

Dutch euthanasia laws allow doctors to assist suicide for patients who are suffering unbearably from a medical condition with no prospect of improvement.

There has been much debate in the Netherlands as to whether euthanasia laws should be extended so doctors can help elderly people who are not seriously ill, but who are simply tired of living, to die.

Researchers decided to examine the level of public support for the matter.

While one in five agreed with the prospect, just over half disagreed and a quarter neither agreed nor disagreed.

Those who supported euthanasia for older people tired of living were more likely to be highly educated and non-religious, researchers said.

Publishing their findings in the Journal of Medical Ethics, they wrote: "Although it is lower than the level of support for assistance in dying for patients whose suffering is rooted in a serious medical condition, our finding that a substantial minority of the general public supports physician assistance in dying for older people who are tired of living implies that this topic may need to be taken seriously in the debate about end-of-life decision-making."

PA