GPs should not help patients to die, insists former RCGP chairman

Doctors helping their patients to die would be wrong, a former RCGP chairman warned, as peers in the House of Lords began debates on the Assisted Dying Bill.

Dr Mayur Lakhani: allowing doctors to end lives would be wrong (Photo: Rob Clayton)
Dr Mayur Lakhani: allowing doctors to end lives would be wrong (Photo: Rob Clayton)

Dr Mayur Lakhani, RCGP chairman until 2007 and current chairman of the National Council for Palliative Care, said passing the bill would be a ‘public safety issue’ and could interfere with the dynamics of the doctor-patient relationship.

‘My personal view as a GP is I would be very worried if the law was passed,' he told GP. ‘It would affect the doctor-patient relationship, and so, as a doctor, I do not feel that it should be anything to do with me, and it should not be part of my palliative care offer.’

His warning came as the first significant debate on the Assissted Dying Bill, which could bring about a change in the law, took place in the House of Lords on Friday.

Dr Lakhani said that many patients approaching the end of their life did not realise what care and support was available to them through palliative care, which could dramatically improve their quality of life.

‘I find that a lot of people don’t know how much can be done in palliative care, so they have fears that are unfounded. They have fears about pain control, about not getting support, that they’ll choke and stuff like that. And we try and reassure them to say with clinical palliative care we should be able to support you tremendously.’

'Sands are shifting'

In 23 years of practising, Dr Lakhani said he had ‘not had a single request’ to assist a patient’s death, but there had been many patients who requested palliative care.

He said a change in the law risked undermining the ‘thousands and thousands’ of patients who needed palliative care and cause them to become ‘neglected’ or feel ‘guilty’ about being a ‘burden to their family’.

But Dr Lakhani conceded that the ‘sands are shifting’. The National Council for Palliative Care, of which he is chair, is ‘neutral’ on the issue, he said.

It believes that it is up to parliament and society to confront and ‘thoroughly discuss’ whether people with access to all the support and medication available to them still wish to end their lives should be allowed to do so.

Dr Lakhani said he shared this view, but stressed that ‘working in consultation with the profession is absolutely important’.

Further talks required

The Assisted Dying Bill must go through a second reading in the Lords and win government backing before passes to the House of Commons, where MPs would consider whether it should become law.

If the bill were passed, it would see GPs and other doctors legally allowed to assist terminally ill patients end their own lives.

For this to take place, two independent doctors would have to agree that the patient was sound of mind and had made an informed decision to die.

Dr Lakhani’s stance matches that of the GPC, leaders of which told GP that ‘we mustn’t do anything to place any doubt in the patient’s mind that the doctor is always working in their best interest’.

Both the BMA and RCGP have steadfastly opposed a change in the law to allow doctors to help patients end their lives, but an increasing number of public and political figures have spoken out in favour of the bill.

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