Saturday, January 23, 2010

UK Physicians: No Euthanasia as "clinical practice"

The British Medical Association and the General Medical Council have already made it abundantly clear that they want no part in voluntary euthanasia becoming a clinical practice. Now the estimable Royal College of Physicians, the professional body representing over 20,000 physicians that “aims to improve the quality of patient care by continually raising medical standards”, has weighed in with a strongly worded letter to the DPP.

“We would go so far as to say”, writes the College’s Registrar, Dr Rodney Burnham, “that any clinician who has been part, in any way, of assisting a suicide death should be subject to prosecution.” Dr Burnham continues: “The trust afforded doctors and nurses in particular gives their views considerable weight with their patients and the public. Clinicians’ duties of care entail active pursuit of alternative solutions to assisted suicide, not its facilitation.”

The College is also critical of the proposals in the DPP’s interim prosecution guidelines that a more lenient view should be taken of assistance with suicide given to people who are seriously ill or severely disabled. “It is counter to any principle of justice in healthcare,” says the College’s five-page letter with admirable candour, “that perspectives on the moral or legal ‘rightness’ of an action depend on the type of a disease.” The proposal was “inherently discriminatory”.

In addition to dangers to sick and disabled patients, says the letter, this proposal could also put practising doctors in an impossible position. “It is an inevitability that these guidelines will lead to physicians being expected or coerced into projecting or prognosticating about an individual’s future in order to ensure that assisters with suicide are able to produce a suitable medical opinion post hoc as a defence against law breaking”.

Read it all here.

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