Letter: Care for the dying
Tuesday 18 May 1999
Sir: Cherry Norton's article on the trial of Dr Moor ("Doctor cleared of murdering patient", 12 May) may have led some of your readers to mistakenly believe that many doctors "secretly hasten the death of terminally ill patients".
Euthanasia is illegal in order to protect patients, not to punish them. Advances in specialist palliative care have made legislation of euthanasia unnecessary. GPs and hospital doctors sometimes have patients whose pain and symptoms are difficult to control. Referral to a specialist palliative care team can help.
There are now more than 236 hospices and hundreds more specialist teams working in the community and in acute hospitals. Availability should not be a problem. All medical schools train medical students in palliative care. Increasingly, young doctors choose a career in palliative medicine (which means four years' additional training), as do many more nurses and other healthcare staff of all disciplines.
They share the public's belief that dying patients deserve the best possible care to allow them to live until they die - and then to die with dignity. Palliative care is about the skilled management of symptoms and compassionate support for patients and relatives during this difficult but important time. It is about "killing the pain", not "killing the patient". It is, above all, about maintaining the patient's trust and confidence in the doctor so that they can work as partners. Anything which would erode that trust is potentially dangerous.
Dr RICHARD HILLIER
The Association for Palliative Medicine of Great Britain and Ireland
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