Eminent surgeon joins right-to-die campaign

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The Independent Online

The heart transplant pioneer Sir Terence English has joined the right-to-die campaign. As one of Britain's most eminent surgeons, and a former president of the Royal College of Surgeons, Sir Terence's involvement will give added impetus to demands for doctors to be allowed to assist terminally ill patients to take their own lives.

Sir Terence, who performed Britain's first successful heart transplant at Papworth Hospital, Cambridgeshire, in 1979, said he would be personally prepared to assist a patient to take their own life provided that he knew the patient was terminally ill, of sound mind and had not been "got at" by friends or relatives.

The former master of St Catherine's College, Cambridge, has joined the Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying group. "I would want there to be safeguards," he said yesterday. "I understand there are many doctors who, as with abortion, would not wish to have anything to do with assisted dying. [But] I think there are enough doctors who feel as I do."

At present, most medical organisations, including the British Medical Association, are opposed to doctors assisting suicide. Only the Royal College of Nursing is neutral on the issue.

Sir Terence's comments come after the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, clarified the legal position on assisted dying last year – a move interpreted by many as an indication that friends and family are unlikely to face prosecution if motivated by compassion to help a relative or close friend with a "clear, settled and informed" wish to die.