The Death of George Liddell and a Question of Medical Ethics

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), July 27, 1997 | Go to article overview

The Death of George Liddell and a Question of Medical Ethics


Byline: ANDREW CHAPMAN

GEORGE LIDDELL'S death was marked with a

dignified announcement in the local newspaper.

It said simply: `Liddell. Peacefully at his daughter's residence in Fenham on 19th July, aged 85 years, George, dearly loved husband of the late Sarah Jane and loving father of Doreen and son-in-law Tony.'

But the last hours in the life of the former ambulance driver, racked by the pain of cancer, are now the focus of the ethical debate over how far a doctor may go to end a patient's suffering.

It is no simple matter: a police inquiry is under way, his daughter and son-in-law have been interviewed. A coroner has halted his cremation and a post-mortem has been carried out to discover what drugs were given to Mr Liddell as he lay in agony.

The GP who treated him, Dr David Moor, 50, is to be interviewed by detectives and could face criminal charges over the death.

One thing is in no doubt - Mr Liddell was suffering extreme pain in his last days as he lay in bed at his daughter's home.

His son-in-law Tony Ryan said: `By Friday (July 18) George was very bad.

At lunchtime we took him his dinner and Doreen asked if I could move him forward to sit him up.

`I took his hands to move him and he screamed out in absolute agony, a piercing scream like an animal in a trap.

`It was terribly distressing for both of us and I phoned Dr Moor at 1pm and he arranged for the district nurses to come and set up a drip.

`That night he slept peacefully, but you could notice his breathing getting deeper and deeper.

`On Saturday morning I awoke at 7am and tried to wake him. He wouldn't stir and I realised he was in a coma. Dr Moor came by at about 10.30am. By now George was retching and he gave him something to ease it.

`George finally passed on a little later. Dr Moor couldn't have done more for him, any other doctor would have done as much. He deserves a medal, he's a very good and caring GP and not a nine-to-five doctor.

`George was in extreme agony. I have nothing but credit and support for Dr Moor's handling of his problems. He did everything he could to ease his suffering and ensure he passed on with dignity.

`I think the police are wasting their time with their investigation when they could be out catching real criminals and villains, not pillorying a hard-working, conscientious doctor and placing him under even greater stress than he has in the day-to-day running of his surgery.'

MR RYAN, 65, a retired BT engineer, and his

54-year-old wife were both interviewed by detectives last Monday. He said: `We each made separate statements, the interviews took about three hours. It was very exhausting by the time they had finished, then the police told us the body might not be released for another month. It is all very stressful.

`Now we think there is to be an inquest and there is the prospect of Dr Moor facing charges. Well, I tell you it will be absolutely scandalous and a travesty of justice if he ever faces a court. Everything the doctor did was standard pain relief procedure.

`There was never at any time any discussion of him ending George's life suddenly with a lethal injection or any request by us for any mercy killing or anything like that.

`We will support Dr Moor in every way. I would face any court to speak for him and tell everything exactly as I am telling you now. It will be a sad day if it gets that far.'

Mr Liddell's cancer was discovered in June. He never returned to his neat semi in Snowsgreen Road, Shotley Bridge, County Durham, after leaving hospital but instead went to be cared for by the Ryans at their home.

His daughter said: `He kept his spirits up but you could see he was failing. At first he had been devastated by his illness but his memory faded. He had no recollection of his former beloved home. …

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