Nurses have called for a rethink on the law on euthanasia and urged their leadership to change its official position on the issue.

Nurses have called for a rethink on the law on euthanasia and urged their leadership to change its official position on the issue.

Delegates at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) congress in Harrogate told how they sometimes had to continue treating terminally ill patients, despite feeling that it was only prolonging their agony.

Some nurses called on the RCN to adopt a "neutral" stance on euthanasia, in line with policy shifts by other royal medical colleges.

But RCN leaders insisted they would stick to their current policy of outright opposition to any form of "legal killing".

A House of Lords select committee earlier this month called for Parliament to review the law, and said any new Assisted Dying Bill put forward should be thoroughly considered by MPs. It is the first time the RCN congress has debated the legalisation of euthanasia.

Helen Ingram, a nurse from south London, said: "I do not think our organisation has got it quite right on euthanasia. A neutral stance would ensure that patients' choices are considered and respected."

Ms Ingram said she had witnessed her own sister die from breast cancer at the age of 33, after refusing active treatment in a hospice. "My sister was dying but she had the strength to pull an intravenous tube out of her arm because she did not want to live any more," she said. "When the nurses said she would need to go to theatre to replace the tube, my sister refused, despite knowing it would hasten her death. She died a week or so later and I am glad she was comfortable making a decision like that.

"There are a small number of terminally ill people who want to be able to choose to die and we should not be blinkered to that." Margaret Devlin, another nurse, from Northern Ireland, said: "Who here has not seen a dying patient's arm covered in bruises from repeated attempts at intravenous procedures and wondered, what is merciful in this?" She said nurses were so anxious about being accused of "bumping patients off" or acting likeHarold Shipman, the serial killer, that they were too scared to discuss the issue.

But some nurses said that any change in the law or RCN policy would undermine the trust between patients and nurses.

Sue McBean, another delegate, said: "I am a Christian and I believe that the timing of our conception and the timing of our death is in God's hands. I have seen many people die in my 32 years in nursing and in my experience, not interfering in the timing of death has permitted patients, their relatives and their friends to be at peace."

Maura Buchanan, deputy president of the RCN, said the council's position on euthanasia would not change.

"The research from the Netherlands has quite clearly shown that patients are receiving euthanasia when they haven't consented to it. You cannot have legal safeguards - people do get bumped off.

"I went into nursing to care, not to kill, and when we consulted with our members, the overwhelming majority said they were opposed to any change in our policy," she said.