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Friday, 3 May, 2002, 08:50 GMT 09:50 UK
Should doctors be given guidelines to help people die?
Doctors in Britain are to be given guidelines on when patients should be allowed to die.
The General Medical Council (GMC) says doctors need clarity on how to decide when to stop life-prolonging treatment.
Their widest-ever consultation exercise, involving 700 people, found broad agreement that it is not always best for patients to be kept alive.
The new guidelines are expected to stress that families and those close to the patients should be consulted well in advance.
Doctors find themselves in a legal and ethical mine field when considering the future of severely ill patients.
This week, the death was announced of Miss B, whom courts last month granted the right to die.
At the same time, courts have ruled that Diane Pretty, who has motor neurone disease, cannot seek the help of her husband in order to end her life.
Will these guidelines help? Do doctors have a duty to prolong life at any cost? Or should they be allowed effectively to help their patients die?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Hugh McKinney, London
I think the doctors I have met, so far, due to the nature of their profession, seem to be so remote and aloof, that it makes one wonder if they could actually have what it takes (in case the patient cannot recover): Compassion for another human soul who does not need to suffer unnecessarily!
People should be allowed dignity and peace. If the time comes I do not want to be preserved at any cost and propped in a chair so I can last another 20 years with only the power to blink. I would rather be remembered as the argumentative, noisy funny girl that I am. I have a life and great quality of life and I treasure it. I really do feel that doctors should be granted totally clear guidelines on when to cease lifesaving treatment and then maybe such painful court cases such as that of Miss B will become a thing of the past.
Medical practitioners cannot act as professional killers, nor can they equate life with money. Such guidelines are absurd as these doctors have only one noble job to do and that is to save lives and relieve the sufferings of the sick and diseased. You may consider me to be 'pro-life', but tell me which doctor would like to bestow death on his or her patient. Life cannot be considered directly proportional to the kind of money we can afford to enhance its longevity.
I think it is a doctor's duty to prolong quality of life, not just life itself. If a patient is suffering then they should be allowed to die, even if they have to be assisted by a third party, ie their doctor.
K Sadler, UK
Send them to an NHS hospital - that usually does the trick.
I think that we in Britain are finally facing up to that great no-no, death. We all have to die sometime or another. For some of us it is peaceful, for others, it is long and drawn out. We currently spend huge amounts of money keeping people alive when they have little hope of recovery. Given that there will always be a finite budget for health care, I am of the firm opinion that we should spend more on saving younger lives and less on artificially prolonging older ones.
Of course, relatives grieve over any death. Of course, sometimes doctors need to keep someone alive to bring their relatives safely through a critical shock. But it is time that we faced up to the essential transient nature of life, gloried in it while we are here and sign off with dignity, rather than do our best to kill each other, be that through fighting; selling tobacco, alcohol or heroin; constantly denigrating our family or colleagues at work; or standing by whilst one group of religious fanatics tries to take over the world. Only to spend billions saying "Hey, they shouldn't go yet, because we didn't say what we needed to say while they were alive and didn't do the things together we should have done either."
There are many situations where stopping medical care could cross ethical boundaries. It is therefore good that all of us discuss where those boundaries should lie, then support doctors as they implement new policies in those areas. I am not, however, in favour of doctors deciding ALONE where those boundaries should lie. As a profession, they are no better equipped than any of us to make such judgements and, whilst they may know more about the medical mechanics of death than the rest of us, in my experience they are often far less spiritually and emotionally mature than less exalted members of society. They should contribute to the debate, not control it.
Dr Timothy Chappell, Scotland
30 Apr 02 | Health
'Right-to-die' advice drawn up
29 Apr 02 | Health
Right-to-die patient dies
29 Apr 02 | Health
Q&A: Right to die
29 Apr 02 | Health
Pretty condemns right-to-die ruling
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