A Scottish GP who prescribed sleeping pills to an elderly patient so that she could kill herself has controversially been declared fit to practise by a medical watchdog.
The decision, which comes amid fresh calls for the police to re-open an investigation into the suspicious deaths of two patients in a separate case, is likely to fuel concerns about the softening of attitudes towards assisted suicide.
In July 2008 Dr Iain Kerr was suspended by the General Medical Council (GMC) for a period of six months after he prescribed sleeping tablets to a suicidal 87-year-old woman.
Dr Kerr returned to work under a series of restrictions in January 2009, but last week the GMC removed these and declared Dr Kerr fit to practice.
During his hearing Dr Kerr told the GMC that he would now “refuse to countenance assisting a suicide”, and not prescribe inappropriately outside the guidelines again.
In delivering their verdict the GMC panel said: “Although you have not changed your views with regard to assisted suicide, views to which you are entitled, the panel is satisfied that you recognise you were wrong to allow these beliefs to influence the treatment of patients under your care.
“The panel is of the view that you fully appreciate the gravity of your previous misconduct and is in no doubt that you would not act in the same way should you be faced with similar circumstances in the future.”
The panel also decided that Dr Kerr presented no risk to the public or to his patients, and their decision has been welcomed by euthanasia activists.
Dr Kerr originally prescribed the sleeping pills in 1998, however the patient didn’t take the tablets and disposed of them some years later.
And according to the evidence presented to the GMC Dr Kerr then visited the pensioner at home in 2005 after she had taken an overdose of temazepam, a type of sleeping pill, in a failed suicide bid.
He later prescribed her more of the drug and the elderly patient died within a fortnight because of the intoxication from this and other drugs.
Last month two more families came forward and called upon the police in England to re-open their investigation into the activities of Dr Howard Martin.
The families of Col Jack Plews and Marry Megginson, both of whom were under the care of Dr Martin, claim that the retired GP hastened their deaths.
But Dr Martin has rejected the allegations and described the relatives as “confused hysterical and mistaken”.
Earlier this year Dr Michael Irwin wrote to Keir Starmer QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), and admitted helping a terminally-ill man commit suicide.
But despite there being enough evidence to provide a “realistic prospect of conviction” no prosecution was brought because the DPP felt it was “highly unlikely” that a court would jail a 79-year-old man.