Letter: Dangerous myth about morphine

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The Independent Online
Sir: The public and healthcare professionals are being seriously misinformed about morphine in the media debate about euthanasia provoked by Dr Michael Irwin and Dr David Moor ("Medics face police over euthanasia", 21 July). They are being given the impression that morphine either causes death or at least shortens life. When it is used properly this is not the case.

Experience gained in palliative care over the last 30 years has shown that when morphine is used correctly to counteract pain in a carefully balanced way it does not cause or accelerate death. By contrast, severe unrelieved pain leads to emotional and physical exhaustion which may well hasten death. In many circumstances, such as advanced cancer, morphine is our most effective painkiller. As with all drugs, knowledge and skill are required in order to use it appropriately. When so used it relieves pain completely in the majority of cancer patents and greatly enhances their quality of life.

No patient or doctor should feel isolated, helpless or desperate in the face of severe pain or distress. Specialist advice regarding the relief of such suffering in terminal illness is widely available through palliative care services.

One of our primary responsibilities as healthcare professionals is to relieve suffering. Morphine is an essential drug for the relief of severe pain. It is not only tragic but also ethically unacceptable that the proponents of euthanasia are giving patients the completely wrong impression that morphine will cause or hasten death. It is ironic that by so doing they are very likely to increase suffering by causing patients to decline the analgesia they need.

Dr NIGEL SYKES

Consultant in Palliative Medicine

St Christopher's Hospice

London SE26

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