Mercy killing by GPs gains support

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The Independent Online
The Government was last night facing growing pressure to legalise mercy killing by fam- ily doctors to ease pain and suffering.

Joe Ashton, the veteran Labour MP, last night tabled a Bill to allow doctor-assisted dying for patients suffering distress as a result of terminal illness or an incurable disease.

The demands for GPs to be given legal backing for euthanasia were reinforced in a Lords debate last night led by Lord Lester amid growing concern that the law is in need of reform.

The police were yesterday believed to have passed the papers in the case against one GP to the Crown Prosecution Service for possible prosecution for administering a lethal dose of drugs to ease the pain of a terminally ill patient.

After years of fighting against motor neurone disease, Annie Lindsell last month won a High Court assurance that action by her GP, Dr Simon Holmes, to relieve her pain in her final moments would be legal. Although it fell short of the formal legal declaration that Ms Lindsell had sought, she stopped her case declaring that it was a victory for patients all over the country.

But Mr Ashton said GPs were still facing prosecution, and the law needed clarifying. He said that his own mother's terminal illness had convinced him of the need for a change in the law. "There should be change in the law. I saw my mother die with a wasting disease and she was down to four stone when she died. She often said to me that she hoped that time would come," he said.

Mr Ashton, the MP for Bassetlaw, said that there should be strict guidelines on such mercy killing, requiring the consent of the patient's family.

The Government last night said it was still opposed to euthanasia. "Anyone alleged to have undertaken euthanasia is open to charges of murder or manslaughter. We firmly reject calls to legalise euthanasia and we note the view of the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics that a new offence of mercy killing should not be introduced."