Doctors Are Split over Legalising Euthanasia out Cal for Legal on Euthanasia
Jeremy Laurance Health Editor, The Independent (London, England)
A DISPUTE between two royal medical colleges over a report on euthanasia has highlighted deep divisions among doctors over whether they should help end the lives of terminally ill patients.
The Royal College of General Practitioners has refused to endorse a "position statement" on medical treatment at the end of life, produced by the Royal College of Physicians, because it failed to "break new ground".
Euthanasia is a subject of intense debate within the medical profession because of the growing recognition of the need to respect patients' wishes, set against the increasing potential to maintain life. Surveys show increasing public support in Britain for euthanasia, which is already legal in the Netherlands and the US state of Oregon.
The two colleges set up a joint working party on the subject in 1998 with a radical remit to "identify the kinds of conduct which constitute euthanasia and advise how far they could be justified on moral grounds".
The idea came from Professor Sir George Alberti, the president of the Royal College of Physicians, who was keen to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy that euthanasia was wrong under all circumstances. The aim was to start a public debate.
But after three years, the 19-strong group produced a statement of just two pages affirming its support for the status quo. The statement says that treatments which may shorten a patient's life can be accepted if the intention is to relieve suffering, but that medical acts which have the clear intention of ending a patient's life cannot be justified. …