May 9, 2006


Peers should protect patients by rejecting Assisted Dying Bill (The Telegraph, May 9th, 2006)

We believe medically assisted dying is a bad solution to a difficult problem. Safeguards in the Assisted Dying Bill are woefully inadequate.

Six times, starting in 1936, Parliament has rightly recognised that any Bill that has as the qualifying linchpin "unbearable suffering" would open the door to death on demand. Who is to say that another person's suffering is or is not unbearable? The present Bill contains this fatal flaw, which was pointed out clearly by the recent House of Lords select committee.

To allow medical killing, when a person still has up to six months of natural life left, is to invite a flood.

Such prognoses are notoriously inaccurate and would include some who actually live for a year or more. This stretches the term "terminally ill" far beyond credibility.

The Bill overturns without a thought the medical ethic of avoiding malevolence and the criminality of assisting suicide. In effect, black is considered white, or at least only grey. Apparently the end justifies the means. We consider that legitimising assisted suicide on grounds other than those linked to terminal illness would logically follow.

The media profile patients who are so incapacitated that they cannot commit suicide. This Bill makes no distinction between those who are still able to effect suicide for themselves and others.

To use the power of medicine to end life when the patient is still able to do it for himself is a patent abuse of the skills of the medical profession. What right has such an individual to demand to offload his own responsibility on to another? The administering doctor would not have been compassionate, so much as naïve and lacking in judgment.

We believe the law should protect the vulnerable from the subtle pressures of society, the pressure of feeling a drain on scarce health care resources and the pressure of feeling a burden on the family. Protection is also needed for the patient - as one poignantly remarked: "Medically assisted dying is a temptation I do not wish to endure."

We, who together have very many years of experience of care of the dying, have come to the considered opinion that the hard cases that are publicised could have been handled with respect for autonomy, with dignity and humanely within the present law by harnessing what has been learnt within palliative care. We ask readers to consider these issues and urge peers to reject this Bill on May 12.

Prof Sam Ahmedzai Professor of Palliative Medicine Sheffield,
Dr Claud Regnard Consultant in Palliative Medicine,
Dr Rob George Consultant in Palliative Medicine,
Dr Michael J Minton Consultant in Palliative Medicine,
Dr Andrew Hoy Consultant in Palliative Medicine,
Dr Steve Dyer Consultant in Palliative Medicine,
Dr Craig Gannon Consultant in Palliative Medicine,
Dr Cathy M Gleeson Consultant in Palliative Medicine,
Dr Jeremy R Johnson Medical Director Severn Hospice,
Dr Louisa Kreeger Consultant in Palliative Medicine,
Dr Anna Kurowska Consultant in Palliative Medicine,
Dr Annabella Marks Consultant Physician in Palliative Medicine,
Dr Veronica A Moss CEO/CMO Mildmay Mission Hospital/Milday International,
Dr Alexander B Nicholson Consultant in Palliative Medicine,
Dr Rhian Owen Macmillan Consultant,
Dr Patrick Stone Senior Lecturer in Palliative Medicine, St George's, University of London,
Dr Bee Wee Senior Lecturer in Palliative Medicine,
Dr John Zeppetella Medical Director, St Clare Hospice.
Extra signatories: Dr Anthony Byrne Consultant in Palliative Medicine,
Dr John Chambers Consultant in Palliative Medicine,
Dr Mary Miller Consultant in Palliative Medicine,
Dr Nigel Sykes Consultant in Palliative,
Dr Adrian Ruddle Consultant in Medicine

Of course, the same noble principles answer those who would deny medical care based upon lifestyle.

Posted by Peter Burnet at May 9, 2006 6:35 AM

I have recently had to deal with this issue on a personal basis. There are certainly worse ways of ending your life than naturally in a hospice that has an experienced staff and with proper palliative treatment.

As I have gotten older, and hopefully a bit wiser, I have learned that your death is not only about you but about those who love you as well. I believe that ending your life prematurely is selfish if those people are not yet ready to let you go.

Posted by: Rick T. at May 9, 2006 9:54 AM