Leading Article: We can no longer duck euthanasia legislation

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The Independent Culture
TRY AS it might, the British medical establishment cannot sweep the issue of euthanasia under the carpet of discreet pragmatism. The trial of Dr David Moor for the murder of an 85-year-old patient with an overdose of the painkiller diamorphine shows up all the problems, and all the drawbacks, of an area of medical practice which has existed for centuries in the shadows of doctors' discretion but which is now being increasingly tested in the courts.

The jury in this case decided that the doctor should be acquitted from the charge of murder on the instinctive understanding that, given the choices before him, he probably did right by the terminally ill patient and the family. The judge felt equally determined that the case should not set a precedent, describing Dr Moor's statement in support of euthanasia as "silly remarks to the press". Silly they may well have been, but the judge is wrong in thinking that the issue can be isolated in this way. The dreadful circumstances of painful death - the wishes of the dying and of their close ones - will continue to demand decisions by the doctor attending.

In the past, that decision could be made discreetly. The law of "double effect" which allows doctors to administer as much painkiller as is needed to relieve the suffering while ignoring the fact that this dosage would actually kill the patient won't wash any longer in a world of negligence actions and pressure groups demanding clarification of "hypocrisy".

We can regret the passing of the world of complicity. The world in which we now live will not allow it. Nor will cases such as this settle the matter, however much they may be greeted as decisive by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. The law will have to be clarified and the Government will have to bring in new legislation.

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