Doctors speak out against assisted suicide guidelines

Interim guidelines on prosecuting assisted suicide cases could lead to an “open door” for doctors to end patients’ lives, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has warned.

The comments are the latest in a barrage of criticism against the guidance.

The guidelines are meant to clarify the circumstances surrounding prosecution of assisted suicide cases.

Responding to a public consultation on the guidelines the RCP, England’s oldest doctors’ group, said doctors should not help patients in any suicide bid.

According to The Daily Telegraph, the RCP said: “We believe that our duty of care is to work with patients to mitigate and overcome their clinical difficulties and suffering.

“It is clear to us that this does not include being, in any way, part of their suicide.

“We would go so far as to say that any evidence that any clinician who has been part, in any way, of assisting a suicide death should be subject to prosecution.

“Assisting suicide has been clearly and expressly outside our duty of care since Hippocrates and must remain so for the integrity of these professions and the public good.”

The guidelines on assisted suicide were drawn up by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Keir Starmer QC.

They were published in response to a court decision by the Law Lords which found in favour of assisted suicide campaigner Debbie Purdy.

The Royal College also said in its submission that spouses or close relatives should not be treated more leniently, as the guidelines suggest, as they may have “darker intentions” and do not always act in the best interests of the victim.

The College also said the DPP’s claim that people would be less likely to be investigated if they provided help “as a consequence of his or her usual lawful employment” is open to misinterpretation.

The RCP said: “As it stands, it could imply that assistance with suicide given by a physician, surgeon, nurse or other health care professional in the course of his or her normal employment will be regarded more leniently than assistance with suicide given by others.

“This could well be an open door to physician-assisted suicide, to which the College is firmly opposed.”

The British Medical Association raised similar concerns in November.

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said at the time that the wording was intended to refer to taxi drivers or pilots who played a part in taking people to suicide facilities overseas.

The guidelines have been criticised from many quarters including disability groups, members of the House of Lords, and former judges.

Last month a coalition of disability groups pleaded with Mr Starmer to reconsider the guidelines.

The coalition, led by disabled Peer Baroness Campbell, said that “to see suicide as a right solution is to abandon hope. Severely ill and terminally ill people do not deserve society to give up on them.”

The disability groups warned that it was “profoundly unhelpful for society to be endorsing or encouraging any disabled person to see their request for assistance to die as reasonable or completely understandable.”

The Royal Association for Disabled People, the UK Disabled People’s Council and the National Centre for Disabled Living made up the coalition.

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