Dr David Moor, 52, who once admitted that he helped about 300 patients to die during his 30-year career, said that all doctors who treated dying patients "walk a tightrope". Dr Moor, of Fenham, Newcastle upon Tyne, was found not guilty of killing George Liddell, an 85-year-old retired ambulanceman who was suffering from cancer. He was accused of giving Mr Liddell a lethal dose of diamorphine in 1997 with the intention of shortening his life.
"All I tried to do in treating Mr Liddell was to relieve his agony, his distress and suffering," Dr Moor said as he emerged from court. "This has always been my approach in treating my patients with care and compassion."
After a 27-day trial, the jury took just 67 minutes to acquit the family doctor but the judge said that Dr Moor should pay one-third of his defence costs. Referring to reports that Dr Moor had admitted to journalists that he had helped patients to die, Mr Justice Hooper said: "Not only did he make silly remarks to the press but he then lied to the NHS and to the police and subsequently failed to answer questions, although he has a right to do so," said Mr Justice Hooper.
Throughout his trial, Dr Moor admitted helping his patients to die "pain- free deaths" but insisted he did not commit murder. When he was charged with murder in July last year, he retired from his one-man practice in Fenham.
Patients and friends of Dr Moor were delighted with the verdict. Fiona McAndrew, who led the doctor's support group, said: "This case should never have gone to trial. The dignity which Dr Moor gave Mr Liddell in life has been stripped away in death."
Joanna Moor, the doctor's 27-year-old daughter, said that, although her family was always confident of an acquittal, "deep down there's always that 10 per cent doubt. He loved his work and was an excellent doctor. I just hope he sticks to horseracing now," she said.
Dr Moor's wife, Fiona, said: "It's been a terrible two years and I am glad it's over."
The Medical Defence Union, which supported Dr Moor, advised GPs that his acquittal did not give a green light to euthanasia. A spokesman said: "The lesson for doctors is clear - the law in England and Wales does not permit euthanasia. The law recognises that it may be permissible for treatment to be given where necessary to relieve the pain and suffering of a terminally ill patient, even though it could have the unintended effect of hastening a patient's death. As Dr Moor has maintained throughout the case, his sole intention in caring for this patient was to relieve pain and suffering."
The British Medical Association said it supported the existing law. "Euthanasia is illegal in this country. Although there is a range of views amongst doctors, the majority opinion in the medical profession remains firmly opposed to euthanasia," said a spokesman.
A General Medical Council spokeswoman said: "Dr Moor is free to practise as a GP as he has been found not guilty. We will not be pursuing any action unless we receive a complaint."
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