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Wednesday, May 12, 1999 Published at 06:37 GMT 07:37 UK


Medics review 'doctor-assisted suicide'

Euthanasia is currently illegal in the UK

The British Medical Association (BMA) is to review its opposition to "physician-assisted suicide."

However, the BMA stresses that the review is not linked to the acquittal of GP Dr David Moor, who was cleared on Tuesday of the murder of a terminally ill cancer patient.

Health: Background Briefing: Euthanasia
Dr Moor was acquitted of murdering 85-year-old George Liddell, after admitting he gave him diamorphine to relieve pain, but said he had not deliberately set out to kill him.

The jury took 69 minutes to reach its verdict after an 18-day trial. When the verdict was announced the court room at Newcastle Crown Court erupted into cheers.

Dr Michael Wilks, chairman of the BMA's ethics committee, said the conference would explore the issues surrounding physician assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Dr Moor's wife, Sylvia: "This is obviously a test case"
But he said it was unlikely that the association would change its stance.

He told BBC Two's Newsnight: "I don't think it's likely in the foreseeable future."

Many doctors draw a distinction between euthanasia where a doctor actively terminates a patient's life, and physician assisted suicide where the doctor provides a patient with the means to commit suicide.

[ image: Dr Moor:
Dr Moor: "All I tried to do was relieve Mr Liddell's suffering"
Doctors voted to hold the conference at the BMA's 1998 annual meeting, and it is expected to take place within the next 12 months.

The association issued a statement saying: "The BMA is opposed to euthanasia and does not believe that the Moor case breaks any new moral or legal ground on this issue.

"The BMA is also opposed to physician assisted suicide and opposes any change in the law for the time being.

"However, at last year's annual representative meeting of the BMA, it was agreed that the BMA should organise a conference on this subject with a view to determining whether there is a consensus in favour of the status quo or in favour of a change in legislation."

Dr Moor's case is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK. He was told by the trial judge he was foolish to tell journalists and an NHS executive how he had helped more than 300 people die "pain-free deaths".

[ image: Sir Ludovic Kennedy:
Sir Ludovic Kennedy: "Dr Moor should never have been tried"
The BMA and anti-euthanasia campaigners were keen to stress after the case that the verdict did not give doctors the "green light" to help patients die.

Detectives and the Crown Prosecution Service, defending their decision to bring charges, said the concept of "mercy killing" was meaningless in law.

Chair of the All Party Committee on Doctor Assisted Dying, Joe Ashton MP: "The patient must have the choice"
On his acquittal, Dr Moor said: "All I tried to do in treating Mr Liddell was to relieve his agony, his distress and suffering.

"This has always been my approach in treating my patients with care and compassion."

Broadcaster Sir Ludovic Kennedy, a supporter of the campaign to legalise euthanasia, said: "Dr Moor should never have been tried - the whole trial was a complete waste of time and money.

"He was only doing what hundreds and hundreds of doctors do in this country every year. The sooner the law is changed to allow doctors to legally help people on their way, the better."

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