Top doctors push back against assisted suicide calls

Leading doctors have criticised calls in The Times to legalise assisted suicide.

Top palliative care doctor Irene Tuffrey-Wijne hit out at an article in the newspaper’s magazine arguing in favour of legalising assisted suicide.

Former President of the Royal College of Surgeons Lord Ribeiro and clinical ethicist Dr Lucy Pollock responded to columnist Alice Thomson’s similar calls.

False claims

Dr Tuffrey-Wijne, originally from the Netherlands, rubbished an article by Dr Henry Marsh.

Marsh claimed there is no evidence from places where assisted suicide is legal that it puts vulnerable people at risk.

But Dr Tuffrey-Wijne expert gave an example from the Netherlands of how a patient with an intellectual disability who was helped to die was unable to consider other options.

The palliative care expert added that the Dutch evidence shows how difficult suffering is to assess, “and how this does in fact put vulnerable people at risk”.

‘Vested interests’

In her column, Alice Thomson claimed that legalising assisted suicide would put the decision about ending her life in her own hands, if ever she found she wanted her life to end.

But Lord Ribeiro, who was honoured for services to medicine in 2009, said legalisation would actually put the responsibility on doctors.

He also pointed out that those opinion polls which indicate public support for legalisation are “often sponsored by campaigning groups with a vested interest in the outcome, and are worded in such a way to invite the desired answers”.

He added: “Moreover, significantly, polls of doctors, who would have to implement any such regime, show just the opposite: that the majority don’t want it.”


Dr Lucy Pollock said that despite Thomson’s claims, “No one has to die ‘covered in tubes… and medicated in order to postpone death’.

“Geriatricians like me discuss the limits of treatment with patients and their families, so as to avoid any unwanted procedures.”

She concluded that assisted suicide campaigning is distracting people from a more pressing problem: “how and when to allow those who want it a peaceful and unassisted death”.

Related Resources