Death Doctor's Dilemma

Article excerpt

Byline: A.N. WILSON

NO doubt it was in poor taste to make a docu-drama for ITV about Dr Harold Shipman, who is serving a prison sentence for murder. The grieving relatives of his patients are awaiting the result of a public inquiry into the case, which could bring some of them huge sums in compensation.

Understandably enough their nerves are on edge.

Those of us who are not directly involved are bound to be interested, however, and it is hard to believe that the Shipman play would be intrinsically more tasteless than other plays about real-life events. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people, some of whose families are scarred for life, but we continue to lap up war dramas.

For the families who grieve, the Shipman case was a private horror-story.

For the greater world, however, its real lessons are more paradoxical. If Harold Shipman was a "mass murderer", how did his practice differ from hundreds of other doctors and nurses of his generation and older? His motives and his psyche might very well have been poles apart from theirs, but how did he differ in practice? Not long ago I was talking to a woman whom I have known all my grownup life. When, 30 years ago, she was a young nurse at one of London's big teaching hospitals, they had a syringe full of something called the Mixture: heroin, gin and morphine. It was not given indiscriminately, but if a sad patient, near the end, and with no one at home to care for them, reached a sufficiently pathetic stage, then the Mixture would be administered. Another friend recalled how his dear old Dad was helped out of the world 30 years ago by the family doctor. "Diamorphine was the stuff, but

that stupid Dr Shipman has discredited it," said my old friend, now beginning to get decrepit. Harold Shipman may well be a psychopath, though no evidence to this effect was brought forward at his trial.

What is sad for the rest of us is that merciful and perfectly moral practices by doctors and nurses will now have ceased, lest those who care for us so devotedly at the end be dubbed "murderers" by ambulance-chasing lawyers with mixed motives.

THE Conservative Party writes to me asking me to renew my subscription for membership. Last year I called up the word "Conservative" on my computer and was told that if I filled in my credit card details, I would be allowed to join the party instantly and have a vote in the leadership contest. This was spelt out perfectly clearly, and it was for this reason alone that I joined.

My own personal preferences would have been for Portillo, followed by Clarke.

The first was not allowed to stand and the second was eliminated by a rigged vote. I say rigged, because although I have paid them pound sterling15 solely in order to vote, in the event I wasn't allowed to do so. They invented some post-dated doctrine that only those who had joined the party six months - or was it three? …