Letter: Dignified death

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Sir: Reporting of the Annie Lindsell case (29 October) may have led to the misconception that she had won a right not previously available to her. In fact the court did not rule on the lawfulness of her GP setting up a syringe driver containing diamorphine in doses appropriate to relieve her emotional and physical distress, because no such declaration was required.

Case law in this country has long established that drugs required to alleviate physical distress at the end of life can be lawfully administered even at the risk of some shortening of life. The first case to make this explicit was that of Bodkins-Adams as far back as 1957.

The case has achieved nothing and should not have come to court. The ethical and legal issues are complex but the euthanasia debate cannot be truly informed unless we appreciate that such humane and dignified deaths as that envisaged are already fully available to us under the existing terms of the law.

Dr KILIAN DUNPHY

Macmillan Consultant in Palliative Care

St Albans, Hertfordshire

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