Practicing GP and Medical Correspondent for The Times, Dr Mark Porter MBE, has written an article in support of assisted dying.
The article (“Dr Mark Porter: Most doctors support assisted dying – they want the option themselves”) was featured in The Times on the 18th of March.
“Surveys of GPs and hospital doctors suggest that the BMA and RCGP are out of touch with their membership”
“Opposition from the medical profession is often cited by those fighting any change in the law regarding the right of the terminally ill to end their own lives…
…Yet are doctors themselves an obstacle to assisted dying legislation? Recent surveys of GPs and hospital doctors suggest that the BMA (British Medical Association) and RCGP (Royal College of General Practitioners) are out of touch with their membership.
Far from being against a change in the law, most doctors questioned in independent surveys either support the principle of Lord Falconer’s Bill or believe that the organisations that represent them should maintain a position of neutrality and let society decide.
It’s a finding that reflects my own experience of the opinions of those who work at the coalface of the NHS rather than in the ivory towers of medical politics.”
“Oregon shows that assisted dying will never become the normal way to die for people with terminal diseases such as cancer”
“The Oregon experience shows that assisted deaths among the terminally ill (using self-administered prescribed medication such as barbiturates) now account for just 1 in 500 deaths in the state. And that for every 200 people who discuss the option with their doctor only two end up being given lethal drugs, just one of whom actually takes them.
It suggests that assisted dying will never become the normal way to die for people with terminal diseases such as cancer. And nor should it. Advances in palliative care mean that most people can expect a dignified and comfortable death, often in their own home.
But there are exceptions and for these Oregon teaches us that it is not only the final act of being able to take a lethal drug that is important, but that people appreciate the comfort of knowing that it is an option if required.”
“A typical NHS GP surgery would be unlikely to have more than one or two assisted deaths each year”
“…not every doctor need get involved. Terminally ill patients may want to discuss their options with a clinician they know and request that he or she confirms that they are mentally competent, but the actual prescription for the barbiturates could come from the small minority who are happy to provide the service. And there won’t be many — a typical NHS GP surgery would be unlikely to have more than one or two assisted deaths each year.”
“The proposed changes do not support assisted suicide”
“Despite opponents to Lord Falconer’s Bill fearing that its introduction would prove the thin end of the wedge, the proposed changes do not support assisted suicide, where people are helped to end their lives even if they are not terminally ill as currently permitted in Switzerland (through Dignitas). Nor are they intended to pave the way for voluntary euthanasia where doctors can administer a lethal injection (currently permitted in the Netherlands and Belgium).”
Dr Porter responds to questions on RCGP results
Several letters were written in response to Dr Porter’s original article, and were published in The Times on the 24th March 2014. Dr Porter wrote a direct response to a letter which supported the RCGP’s opposed stance with the following comment:
“…the College kindly supplied me with details of the survey which, in my opinion (and that of many others) was seriously flawed and not truly representative of members’ opinions. I remain convinced that most doctors either support a change in the law, or feel bodies like the BMA or RCGP should move to a position of neutrality. A view supported by a recent Pulse survey of GPs and an as yet unpublished survey of hospital staff in a large NHS Trust. And – anecdotally – by the numerous conversations I have had with colleagues.
However, that is not the same as claiming a change in the law would be warmly welcomed by most doctors – many worry about what their role will be if assisted dying is allowed, and how it may impact on their relationship with patients – more that (sic) most the profession is starting to realise that this is a decision society must make, rather than us medics”
“It is wrong that unrepresentative spokespersons can so dominate a debate…”
A letter in response to Dr Porter’s article written by Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying Chair Professor Ray Tallis was also published in The Times:
“Sir, Dr Mark Porter’s excellent article was a much-needed corrective to the hysteria that frequently surrounds the assisted dying debate.
Dr Porter rightly points out the disconnection between the monolithic opposition of bodies such as the BMA and the deeply divided views of the doctors whom they are supposed to represent, most of whom see neutrality as the correct stance. Surveys have shown similar disconnection between people of faith (overwhelmingly in favour) and their leaders (against); likewise, people with disability and those who claim to speak for them.
Meanwhile dying people and their loved ones are suffering. It is wrong that unrepresentative spokespersons can so dominate a debate as to be able to block a compassionate law that would permit greater choice for mentally competent people at the end of life.
Professor Raymond Tallis”