A bitter pill

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Once again Rev Dr John Cameron (Letters, 3 July) brings out the mantra that “modern medicine too often prevents nature taking its merciful course”.

However, it is because nature very often does not have a merciful course that medicine, both ancient and modern, developed.

Of course, the time comes when burdensome and ineffective attempts at curative treatment should cease, but palliation and all-round care should be continued to the end. This, however, is not euthanasia.

I find Professor Ashton’s likening help to end one’s life to the role of a midwife bizarre and inappropriate. The aim of the midwife is to achieve a live, healthy mother and baby, not to end a life. Good end-of-life care aims to ease the dying process by ­attending to the physical, psychological, social, cultural and spiritual needs of the person. The British Medical Journal appeals to individual autonomy as the foundation for the right to demand help to end one’s life. This ignores the fact that our autonomy is already limited by many laws for the protection of ourselves and others.

The law as it stands, in Scotland and in England and Wales, gives protection to vulnerable groups and should not be changed. The BMJ article questions the validity of surveys of the medical profession. However, in the extensive survey carried out in 2013 by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) 77 per cent of the GPs surveyed supported the RCGP’s stance of ­opposition to assisted dying, 18 per cent wanted the college to take a neutral stance, while only 5 per cent favoured taking a stance in ­favour of a change in the law.

While Dr Cameron may be prepared to write off such surveys, he accepts non-identifiable surveys which “show many doctors admit to having resorted to euthanasia when pain and discomfort suffered by a dying ­patient is beyond palliative care”.

Quite apart from the fact that this would be a criminal offence, I question what constitutes “many” and, more importantly, whether full palliative care was being applied. Properly administered, adequate pain relief does not lead to a premature death.

(Rev Dr) Donald M MacDonald

Craiglockhart Grove

Edinburgh

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