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GPs to be responsible for assisted suicide requests

GPs to be responsible for assisted suicide requests


General Practice staff are being urged to re-consider their "cruel" opposition to assisted dying as a report reveals a "strong case" for providing choice to terminally ill patients.

Research by the Commission on Assisted Dying, which is chaired by former Chancellor Lord Falconer, claims the current legal status of assisted suicide is "inadequate and incoherent" and should be changed.

It therefore supports the legalisation of assisted dying to terminally ill patients with less than a year to live to ensure widespread access to high quality end of life care

Under the Commission's proposals, GPs will find they have an important part to play in ensuring safeguards are in place for vulnerable patients.

"The Commission envisages that the patient's usual doctor (most likely their GP in their condition) would be responsible for exploring the individual's request, understanding whether it was a serious request or a 'cry for help' that could be addressed in another way, and exploring whether access to other types of care and support might remove the patient's wish to die," said the report.

"The doctor would need to give these conversations time and ensure that the patient had enough time to reflect on their decision and discuss it with other people in their life."

A further assessment to determine whether the person meets the relevant eligibility criteria should then be provided by at least two doctors who are wholly independent of each other, it is claimed.

Professional bodies, including the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council are being called upon to develop codes of practice and training guidelines for healthcare professionals taking a role in assisted dying.

The Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying (HPAD) has welcomed the Commission's report and hopes its conclusions will prompt the British Medical Association (BMA) – which is said to have refused to give evidence when called by the Commission - and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) to review their positions.

"It is our view that the BMA's and RCGP's opposition [to assisted dying] is not only cruel, ignoring the plight of many terminally ill patients whose symptoms cannot be controlled, but also illegitimate," said Professor Ray Tallis, Chair of HPAD.

"Assisted dying should be a matter for society as a whole, and not the medical profession, to decide. 

"I very much hope that the Commission's report will give politicians the courage to respond to the wishes of the vast majority of citizens by setting in motion the process that will lead to legalising assisted dying."

Opposing the report, Dr Peter Saunders, Campaign Director of Care Not Killing, has slammed the Commission's "biased and flawed" conclusions and said its recommendations could heap pressure on vulnerable people to end their life.

"What the Commission is proposing is a less safe version of the highly controversial Oregon law, which sees the terminally ill offered drugs to kill themselves, but not expensive life saving and life extending drugs," said Dr Saunders.

"It's so-called 'proposed safeguards' are paper-thin and have already been rejected three times in the last six years by British Parliaments.

"These recommendations if implemented will place vulnerable people under increased pressure to end their lives so as not to be a burden on others, which will mean the so-called right to die can so easily become the duty to die.

"The current law does not need changing."


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