A former GP has warned that the law on assisted suicide should not be weakened, as he was previously tempted to give lethal drugs to a patient who was in pain.
Trevor Stammers, now a bioethicist at St Mary’s University, shared a personal story in The Spectator about a time when he was called to the bedside of a terminally ill cancer patient at two in the morning.
“Martin had borne his illness with stoicism so far but on this night he was in terrible pain — both physical and existential.”
A way out
He added: “What alarmed me about Martin’s death wish, both at the time and now, looking back on it, is that had it been legal to kill him, I might well have done it.
“I would have helped him die, not through compassion but because it would have been easier: a way out for me as well as him.”
Stammers made the comments ahead of the debate on Rob Marris’ assisted suicide Bill in the House of Commons today.
Marris’ proposal would allow patients who are thought to have less than six months to live to obtain lethal drugs to kill themselves.
Stammers explained that his patient Martin’s pain “turned out to be mainly from loneliness and precipitated by a bladder infection which was successfully treated”.
… the idea of being able to deliver both life and death was intoxicatingTrevor Stammers
“Martin had a good few months after that with no recurrence of the infection, and several months later he died peacefully in the local hospice”, he said.
Stammers referred to a small meeting he attended of pro-assisted suicide doctors, at which “they all seemed scarily eager to ‘do the first one'”.
He said they seemed to find that “the idea of being able to deliver both life and death was intoxicating”.
And he pointed to evidence from the Netherlands and Belgium, where doctors are either enthralled by the idea of assisted suicide, or hardened towards it.
“An inured physician stops asking questions. He becomes more inclined to just get on with the job.”
Stammers commented that “even the most dedicated doctors become tired and numb to suffering”.
The Group Chief Executive of a hospice in Lichfield, the Reverend Canon Peter Holliday, also shared his experience of attending to someone in hospital deemed to have just a few hours to live.
“Twelve months later I shared afternoon tea with her at her home”, he said.
He criticised Rob Marris’ assisted suicide Bill, saying: “We don’t have statistics concerning the reliability of a six month prognosis of death (the requirement in the Bill) but what we do know from palliative medicine consultants is that such a prognosis would prove to be wrong in a significant proportion of cases.”
Revd Canon Holliday said his experience working in a hospice is the “principal informer” of his belief that legalising assisted suicide would “put thousands of society’s most vulnerable members at risk”.