Vulnerable patients need better end-of-life service provision not help to kill themselves, a group of palliative care experts have argued.
In a letter to The Times, senior figures from the world of palliative care medicine challenged the claim of retired medic Prof Sam Ahmedzai that assisted suicide is ‘compassionate and caring’.
Signatories to the letter included Dr Amy Proffitt, President of the Association for Palliative Medicine of Great Britain and Ireland (APM) and three previous APM presidents.
In a previous letter to the same newspaper, Prof Ahmedzai said: “I am in no doubt that palliative care is a right answer to suffering at the end of life, but it cannot help everyone.”
He claimed: “Allowing people the dignity of dying in the manner and at the time of their choosing is not ‘killing’.”
But in an uncompromising response, his colleagues reminded readers that his position was not representative of “the majority view”.
They countered: “Repeated surveys have shown that an overwhelming majority of UK palliative medicine doctors remain opposed or sceptical about legalising ‘assisted dying’.”
Palliative care doctors in Canada are witnessing first-hand the damage being done to palliative care.
Reflecting on the situation elsewhere, they continued: “In 2012 two thirds of Oregon hospices had policies against assisted deaths and recently New Zealand hospices were granted a supreme court ruling to refuse participation.
“Palliative care doctors in Canada are witnessing first-hand the damage being done to palliative care.
“The reality is that growth in palliative care services is slower in European ‘assisted dying’ countries, with Dutch and Belgian growth static for nearly two decades.”
The signatories concluded: “Ahmedzai is right that palliative care is not helping everyone: in 2017 HospiceUK estimated that 118,000 people needed specialist palliative care but could not get access to that care.
“That is the true scandal that needs addressing via government investment in palliative care services.”
Multiple campaigns for terminally ill adults to get help from doctors to kill themselves are currently being pursued across the British Isles.
An assisted suicide Bill is expected before Holyrood soon, public consultations on similar proposals are under way in Jersey and the Isle of Man, and Westminster recently called for evidence on legalising assisted suicide in England and Wales.