Terminal Regrets in Euthanasia Bill

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), August 25, 2003 | Go to article overview

Terminal Regrets in Euthanasia Bill


Byline: Tim Maughan

The legal campaign by Diane Pretty for a change in the law to allow her husband to help her die and the recent death of Reginald Crew at a Swiss clinic have prompted a backbench Lords Bill, supported by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, in a bid to legalise assisted suicide. The Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill proposes that a competent adult suffering from a terminal or serious physical illness should be allowed to ask for medical assistance to die. Here Tim Maughan, Professor of Cancer Studies at the University of Wales College of Medicine and consultant clinical oncologist at Velindre Hospital explains why he believes the Bill will undermine society's duty to do all it can to relieve suffering and support the vulnerable

AS a consultant cancer specialist I have been asked a few times by patients for some way to 'end it all'. These occasions are in fact relatively rare, but memorable. From this experience I have very major concerns regarding the impact of the Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill on my patients and in particular for two groups of patients who are very vulnerable yet are likely to be much more at risk if this Bill goes ahead.

The first are the many patients - with cancer and indeed any serious disease - who go through a period of depression or a sense of hopelessness, either at diagnosis or at some point in their disease journey.

It is these patients who have asked me for a lethal injection. Yet each time, I have observed that this episode of depression is self-limiting and patients come through to accept and work with their new situation - often to address important issues with their families which would otherwise have been unresolved.

If this Bill was approved, I suspect many of these patients would be helped to die, a decision they would have regretted once that episode of depression is past.

The Bill calls for a psychiatric opinion if the physician considers the patient not to be competent.

That will not be an adequate defence - these patients are at that point reflecting their true desires - the point is those desires are often relatively short lived and reverse with support, good palliative care and where people are treated with dignity. The first patient to receive euthanasia in Northern Territories, Australia, was just such a patient and I am sure it would happen here, repeatedly.

The second group are those who feel themselves to be a burden, as many do in our burdened National Health Service and increasingly disjointed society. …

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