In the Media

Let doctors kill without consent, says ethics expert

PUBLISHED June 8, 2006

DOCTORS should be allowed to help to kill terminally ill patients with or without their consent, a leading professor of medical ethics said yesterday.

Emeritus Professor Len Doyal said that doctor-assisted deaths were already taking place in Britain on a ?regular and recurring basis? and needed to be better regulated. 
He said that many doctors took part in a form of euthanasia by withdrawing essential treatment to ?alleviate suffering?.

Writing in the Royal Society of Medicine journal Clinical Ethics, Professor Doyal said: ?When doctors withdraw life-sustaining treatment, such as feeding tubes from severely incompetent patients, it should morally be recognised for what it is ? euthanasia where death is foreseen with certainty.

?Doctors may not want to admit this and couch their decision in terms such as ?alleviating suffering? but withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from severely incompetent patients is morally equivalent to active euthanasia.?

Professor Doyal, who is Professor of Medical Ethics at Queen Mary, University of London and has been a member of the medical ethics committee of the British Medical Association for nine years, added: ?If doctors can already choose not to keep uncomprehending patients alive because they believe that life is of no further benefit to them, why should their death be needlessly prolonged? ?It is ironic that much of the debate about euthanasia has been so focused on competent patients. Withdrawing feeding tubes, ventilators or antibiotics from incompetent patients may result in a slow, painful and incomprehensible death that could be avoided through the legalisation of non-voluntary active euthanasia.?

Professor Doyal also criticised Lord Joffe?s Assisted Dying Bill ? which would make it legal to prescribe drugs that a terminally ill person could take to end their life ? for not going far enough.

Lord Joffe, a former human rights lawyer and a former chairman of Oxfam, estimated that 650 people would use the medication every year. However, Anglican and Catholic leaders have spoken out against voluntary euthanasia.

Referring specifically to the Joffe Bill, Professor Doyal claimed: ?Some supporters of euthanasia remain silent about non-voluntary euthanasia, presumably because they believe that focusing on voluntary euthanasia offers a better chance of legalisation.

?Yet, in doing so, they ignore important arguments for their own position.

?If doctors are now allowed control and should be able to exert even more control over the deaths of severely incompetent patients, why should competent patients not be able to control the circumstances of their own deaths if this is what they wish? ?Proponents of voluntary euthanasia should support non-voluntary euthanasia under appropriate circumstances and with proper regulation.?