GPs should not be allowed to help patients end their lives, warns GPC

GP leaders have warned against allowing GPs to assist terminally ill patients who wish to commit suicide, after a leading doctor called for a change in the law.

Dr Richard Vautrey: change in law inappropriate (Photo: Jason Heath Lancy)
Dr Richard Vautrey: change in law inappropriate (Photo: Jason Heath Lancy)

Giving GPs the power to assist patients in ending their life would be ‘inappropriate’ and could undermine patients’ trust in the profession, the GPC warned.

The comments came in response to calls from a leading doctor that GPs and doctors should help terminally ill patients to die days or weeks before they would have passed away naturally.

Professor John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, told The Guardian that GPs should help patients to ‘end their life’ if their quality of life is very poor and continuing to live would ‘cause major suffering’.

He is reported to have said: ‘All over the country people are spending their last days and weeks in major discomfort because their medical carers are not willing to accept that it’s the end of the line and to give them the necessary sedation to just speed things up a bit.

‘I think a significant proportion of the population would like to feel confident that if it came to the crunch they could call on their doctor to help them out.’

He also said that doctors are ‘not in tune’ with what patients want if they refuse to get involved in discussions about assisted suicide.

Change in law would put vulnerable patients at risk

Professor Ashton said: ‘There is a narrow line between actively taking someone’s life and supporting their passing, and that’s the art of medicine.’

But GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said a change in the law would be ‘inappropriate’ and could put vulnerable patients at risk of being pressured into assisted suicide.

‘The BMA and RCGP have discussed this extensively over the years, and the position is consistently that there shouldn’t be a change in the law,’ he said.

‘The doctor-patient relationship is paramount, and we mustn’t do anything to place any doubt in the patient’s mind that the doctor is always working in their best interest.

‘What we need to be focusing on is ensuring that all dying patients receive the highest possible standard of palliative care and that’s something that GPs are very proud of in terms of what they are able to provide, and would want to continue to focus on.’

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