Leading palliative care doctors say that no “convincing case” has been made for introducing assisted suicide.
The doctors, who include the President and Vice-President of a national palliative care group, made the comments in a letter to The Times.
They were responding to an editorial in the newspaper, which raised concerns about any weakening of the law.
Do no harm
In their letter more than 20 medics, including consultants in end-of-life care and hospice experts, suggest that legalising assisted suicide would go against medicine’s principle of “do no harm”.
They point out that doctors “often know little of their patients beyond the consulting room” and that home visits – where an understanding of the pressures facing vulnerable people can be ‘glimpsed’ – are “now the exception”.
They continue: “With four out of five doctors unwilling to have anything to do with physician-assisted suicide, patients seeking lethal drugs would in most cases end up being assessed by a handful of referral doctors who knew nothing about them.
“Quite apart from these practical issues, there is the important ethical question of whether physician-assisted suicide can be reconciled with medicine’s cardinal principle of ‘do no harm’.”
“We do not believe any convincing case has been made for changing the law”, they comment, adding that if the practice is legalised, “it should be kept well clear of healthcare”.
The Times editorial noted doctors’ opposition to assisted suicide and said that “hard cases make bad laws”.
It also said that doctors understand the psychological pressures on vulnerable people “better than most” and also see how such a law could be extended to many other people.
Last year, as Lord Falconer sought to introduce an assisted suicide Bill, Paralympic star Tanni Grey-Thompson explained her opposition.
She said there is a “myth that our lives are so tragic or painful that we must want to end them”.
Baroness Campbell, who has spinal muscular atrophy, also opposed the Bill and commented: “Helping people to live with dignity and purpose must surely be our priority”.