GPs could judge patients' right to die in new proposal

GPs could decide whether terminally ill patients are granted an assisted death under controversial proposals to regulate the practice if it were legalised.

Lord Warner: argues there is public support for assisted dying (Photograph: Jason Heath Lancy)
Lord Warner: argues there is public support for assisted dying (Photograph: Jason Heath Lancy)

Former health minister Lord Warner outlined a proposal that would see GPs help decide the mental competency of a patient wishing to end their life.

This would form part of a tribunal system to rule on individual cases, Lord Warner told an RCGP debate on assisted dying.

He called for the practice to be legalised to give suffering patients personal autonomy.

But Baroness Ilora Finlay, former president of the Royal Society of Medicine, warned it was akin to 'licensing death in advance'.

Assisted dying, where a terminally ill patient is prescribed a life-ending drug at their request but administers it themselves, is currently illegal. However, calls are growing louder to legalise the practice.

Under the proposal, patients wishing to have assistance to end their life would have their case decided by a legal tribunal. A medical representative would judge patients' mental competency - most likely their GP, the former minister said.

However, GPs are traditionally opposed to assisted death.

Former GP Dr Ann MacPherson, who is terminally ill with pancreatic cancer, said there was a 'climate of fear' among doctors about helping patients to die. 'We need a law that allows assisted dying and protects people. Assisted dying is part of good end-of-life care - it is not throwing in the towel,' she said.

It is estimated that more than 1,000 deaths per year are hastened by a medical professional, yet most are 'swept under the carpet', said Lord Warner. He added that there was consistent public support for giving terminally ill patients the right to die.

London GP Dr Steve Mowle said it was a complicated and difficult issue for GPs. 'We need guidance on how we should act,' he said.

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