No License to Kill: 1,700 UK doctors and nurses voice opposition to legalising assisted suicide and say they will refuse to take part if legalised

Editor’s note. Duty of Care is a group of doctors and nurses in the UK who oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide.

A group of 1,700 doctors and nurses have voiced their strong opposition to legalising assisted suicide and say they will refuse to kill their patients even if the law is changed. Their intervention comes ahead of next week’s second record reading of a private members bill in the House of Lords that would allow doctors to provide lethal drugs to terminally ill people wanting to end their lives.

In the letter to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid, the doctors say:

“As healthcare professionals, we have a legal duty of care for the safety and wellbeing of our patients. We write with great concern regarding the introduction of a Bill to legalise assisted suicide.”

It goes on: “The shift from preserving life to taking life is enormous and should not be minimised.” It goes on to say: “The prohibition of killing is present in almost all civilised societies due to the immeasurable worth of every human life…”

Dr. Gillian Wright, a former palliative medicine registrar who now works in medical ethics and is a spokesperson for the healthcare group Our Duty of Care (Odoc) which organised the letter, commented: “Regrettably the public are being misled about the significant problems associated with Oregon’s assisted suicide legislation and its operation. For example, in 2020, over half of those ending their lives cited the fear of being a burden on their families as a reason and a further 7.4 per cent cited financial worries.

The letter concludes: “…It is impossible for any government to draft assisted suicide laws which include legal protection from future extension and expansion of those laws. Canada has clearly demonstrated that safeguards can be eroded in a matter of just five years. The prohibition of killing is the safeguard. The current law is the protection for the vulnerable. Any change would threaten society’s ability to safeguard vulnerable patients from abuse, it would undermine the trust the public places in physicians, and it would send a clear message to our frail, elderly and disabled patients about the value that society places on them as people.

“Far from one person’s decision affecting no one else, it affects us all. Some patients may never consider assisted suicide unless it is suggested to them. The cruel irony of this path is that legislation introduced with the good intention of enhancing patient choice will diminish the choices of the most vulnerable.

“We would not take patients’ lives – even if they asked us to – but for the sake of us all, and for future generations, we ask that the law remains unchanged.”

Dr. David Randall, a medical registrar from London stated: “This letter emphasises just how much opposition there is within medicine to the legalisation of assisted suicide. The current law works well, protecting the vulnerable and allowing us to deliver to patients the kind of compassionate, individualised care to which we aspire. A change in the law would distort conversations and priorities around end-of-life care, and would threaten the world-leading hospices and palliative care services that we enjoy in this country. We call on politicians to keep the current law in place, and not to send to vulnerable patients the message that society no longer values their lives.”

Dr. Wright added: “The 1,700 doctors and health care professionals who have signed this letter urge the Health Secretary, Sajid Javid and all Parliamentarians to reject this legislation and instead concentrate on ensuring that regardless of where you live or what you earn, you can access the very best palliative care – a system that caters for both the physical and psychological needs of those with terminal or chronic conditions.”

Editor’s note. This was reposted at the webpage of the Euthanasia Coalition Prevention.