Caine reveals his agony over asking doctor to end father's life

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The Independent Online

Sir Michael Caine has revealed how he asked a doctor to help his terminally ill father to die by giving him a lethal overdose.

Maurice Micklewhite, a Billingsgate fish market porter, died in hospital at the age of 56 in 1955 after suffering from liver cancer.

Sir Michael, the double Oscar winning-actor who was born with the same name as his father but changed it at the start of his career, kept the story of his father's death secret for decades, and never revealed the truth to his mother.

But in an interview due to be broadcast tonight, the actor, 77, spoke frankly about his father's final hours and expressed his support for voluntary euthanasia.

He said: "My father had cancer of the liver and I was in such anguish over the pain he was in, that I said to this doctor: 'Isn't there anything else you could (do), just give him an overdose and end this', because I wanted him to go and he said 'Oh no, no, no, we couldn't do that.'

"Then, as I was leaving, he said 'Come back at midnight.' I came back at midnight and my father died at five past 12. So he'd done it..."

Sir Michael said his father had been given just three to four days to live when he asked the doctor to perform the mercy killing. He kept the request secret from his mother, Ellen, a cook and a cleaner, who died in 1989.

Asked if he agreed with voluntary euthanasia, Sir Michael said: "Oh I think so, yeah. I think if you're in a state to where life is no longer bearable, if you want to go. I'm not saying that anyone else should make the decision, but I made the request, but my father was semi-conscious."

Assisted suicide is an offence under the 1961 Suicide Act, and can result in a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

However, earlier this year Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, issued guidelines which stated that a person was unlikely to face prosecution if they acted out of compassion.

A spokeswoman for Dignity in Dying, a charity campaigning for the legalisation of assisted suicide and assisted dying, welcomed Sir Michael's revelations and called for new measures to allow doctors to help terminally ill patients who have expressed a wish to die.

"It is unimaginably difficult to watch a loved one suffer against their wishes at the end of their life," she said.

"There is an ethical fudge at the moment that prevents doctors from directly helping a patient to die at the patient's request, but does allow them to give enough medication to shorten a patient's life, as long as their intention is to relieve pain, not end life.

"This neither protects people properly from potential abuse nor offers a clear choice for terminally ill adults who wish to control their death.

"We need up-front safeguards which allow people who are terminally ill and mentally competent to be allowed to ask for help to die in the final days or weeks of their lives, whilst also better protecting vulnerable people. The current situation places a terrible emotional burden on both patients, families and their doctors.'"

Alistair Thompson, spokesman for the campaign group Care Not Killing, said: "There is always an alternative to euthanasia."

While stressing that it would be wrong to comment on the specific circumstances of Mr Micklewhite's death, he added: "We have great doctors, and fantastic hospices in this country, and systems in place to ensure no patient will suffer pain or discomfort if they are terminally ill.

'That has been developed over a number of years, and I find that the experts who we work with regularly do not believe there is any necessity to legalise euthanasia."

Mr Thompson described "more drastic action" as "both cruel and unnecessary".