Wednesday 25 March 2009

Medics in Britain regularly hasten the deaths of long-term sick patients

Although time ran out on Monday for the House of Commons to debate Ms Hewitt's measure on assisting suicide, the issue could re-emerge in parliament. Furthermore, a study has found that medics in Britain regularly hasten the deaths of the long-term ill. The Guardian tries to minimise the fact that some hospitals are places where doctors kill patients by saying that it is very rare, yet the practice reportedly accounts for 2,500 deaths annually.

Responding to the Queen Mary University study on euthanasia, Dignity in Dying, the former Voluntary Euthanasia Society, says it wants assisted suicide and euthanasia, but with safeguards.

My colleague, Paul Tully, SPUC's general secretary, says: "In fact, the evidence from the Netherlands shows that, even with safeguards, around 900 patients a year are being killed by doctors without request or consent, besides those who volunteer for death. In order to truly safeguard patients what is needed in the UK is wider understanding of the pain control available, and the rewriting of recent pro-euthanasia legislation and protocols to make clear that intentional killing is not acceptable.

"The 2005 Mental Capacity Act made it legal for doctors to kill incapacitated patients deliberately, and medical guidance on withholding treatment says that patients can be killed by starvation and dehydration. It is no wonder that cases like the deaths of six disabled people highlighted by Mencap have been blamed on discrimination. That is what the BMA guidance and recent legislation - for all their safeguards - encourage."

SPUC's Patients First Network (whose symbol is on the right) helps people let doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers know how they expect to be treated in hospital if they are mentally incapacitated. It also fights against euthanasia. It has a confidential phone service which you can call if you have any concerns in this area, whether you are a patient, relative or healthcare worker.