Leading professor says doctors should help terminally ill patients die

Categories: In The Media.

In an interview with the broadsheet, Prof John Ashton, President of the Faculty of Public Health, went on to say that those who are dying need the equivalent of midwives to help ease, and possibly end suffering and pain.

The professor – the most senior doctor yet to publicly back patients’ right to die – demands a change in the law so that doctors caring for people who are dying can end their suffering by giving a lethal dose of drugs to those who want it without the risk of prosecution.

Speaking in a personal capacity on the issue, he said: “All over the country people are spending their last days and weeks in major discomfort because their medical carers are not willing to accept that it’s the end of the line and to give them the necessary sedation to just speed things up a bit.”

“We have midwives; we need an equivalent of a midwife at the end of life,” he added.

His comments come at a time when the assisted dying debate is back on the Government’s agenda.

The second reading of Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill will take place on Friday 18 July, as reported in ehospice.

Under the proposals set out in the Bill, an adult who is terminally ill and at the end of life (defined in the Bill as the last six months of life) would have to prove that they had the capacity to make the decision to end their own life, were making a voluntary and informed choice, and had a “clear and settled intention” about their wish to die.

Published today, Ashton’s controversial comments have prompted an angry response from groups against assisted dying.  

Quoted in the Guardian article, Andrea Williams, the chief executive of the Christian lobby group Christian Concern, said: “To say that it’s care for a doctor to kill is … a complete denial of their Hippocratic oath. A doctor is there to care for the patient, not to kill the patient. Midwives joyfully bring life into the world. It’s not a doctor’s place to play God at the end of life.”

ehospice contributor and palliative care doctor and academic Katherine Sleeman took to Twitter to express her concerns in a seven-point message, which began by calling for better symptom control at end of life, fewer invasive tests and treatments, and improved communication but also pointing out that this is palliative care, not assisted dying.

In her fourth point, Katherine references a paper from The New England Journal of Medicine, which supports her argument that that good palliation does not hasten death.

Meanwhile, Prof Raymond Tallis, the chairman of Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying – a 1,000-strong group of doctors and nurses – supports Ashton in the Guardian piece: 

“It’s totally appropriate that they should have the assistance of physicians if they have intolerable symptoms. It’s very much the humane response to human suffering.”

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