A doctor who provided tablets to help a patient end her own life could return to work in six months time, prompting fears that regulators are softening their line on euthanasia.
Dr Iain Kerr, a long-time advocate of ‘assisted suicide’, provided a pensioner with sleeping pills so that she could kill herself. She was worried about becoming a burden to her family.
The General Medical Council (GMC), deciding that he had “made a serious misjudgement and embarked on a potentially criminal act”, suspended Dr Kerr for six months.
Dr Michael Irwin, of pro-euthanasia organisation Dignity In Dying, believes that the GMC’s moderate penalty could signal a softening in attitudes towards euthanasia.
He said: “I do not want to sound too optimistic, but in the recent past doctors doing the same kind of thing were struck off.”
However, the British Medical Association maintains a clear policy against euthanasia.
Writing in The Times last week, Roseanna Cunningham, nationalist MSP for Perth, said that the answer lay in better end-of-life care, rather than euthanasia.
She wrote: “We are frequently presented with demographic research which talks in terms of the ‘problem’ of the increasing number of elderly people in society. This is frequently described as a ‘burden’ on the health service. Caring for them is costly.”
She added: “It is only a short jump to applying that same language to individuals. A costly burden and a problem to be solved.”
Acknowledging that cases like Dr Kerr’s were taking place, she warned: “The fact that it might already happen, however, does not provide an argument for legalising euthanasia. Once you do that, the exceptional becomes routine.”
Dr Lewis Morrison, a member of the BMA’s Community Care Committee, said: “For the vast majority of patients who are making noises about wanting their life to end soon, the issues are not about positively making plans to end their life. They want better control of their symptoms.”