Expert testifies in assisted suicide case
A specialist in palliative care has told the High Court he does not believe assisted suicide should be permitted for a narrow category of seriously ill people who have the mental capacity to want to end their lives but cannot do so unaided.
While serious weight should be given to a person's wishes concerning their own life, individuals do not live in isolation but in a civil society and allowing assisted suicide for a small number would still create a shift in attitudes, especially among clinicians, Professor Rob George said.
The moral issues do not change even where assisted suicide is allowed only in very narrow circumstances, he said. Once such a step was taken, it was "impossible" not to make further changes.
When assisted suicide was permitted in Oregon in the US, some 15 per cent of those who availed of it in the first year said they believed they were a burden on their families, he said. That figure had now risen to 42 per cent and he was very troubled by that, he said.
Prof George, who has worked with 25,000 dying and suffering patients in the UK, also said it would be very unusual to have situations where very ill patients are actively having their lives ended.
After the case in the UK of Dr Harold Shipman, who killed several of his patients with excessive doses of drugs, doctors began using doses that were much too low and had to be re-educated concerning proper dosages, he added.
While virtually no treatments did not involve potential harm as well as benefits, and all treatments involved a balance between harm and benefit, he did not believe treatments used at end of life situations shorten lives.
This was not an issue for end of life situations because the patients involved are actively dying and the administration of drugs such as morphine did not influence the timing of death, he said.
Prof George was giving evidence in the continuing action by Marie Fleming (58) who is in the final stages of multiple sclerosis and is challenging the constitutionality of the absolute ban here on assisted suicide.
The case continues before a three judge court.