Eleven Scots die each week in ‘intolerable’ pain despite palliative care

There are calls to legalise assisted dying in a bid 'to reduce the suffering of the terminally ill.
There are calls to legalise assisted dying in a bid 'to reduce the suffering of the terminally ill.
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Eleven people a week die in pain despite access to top palliative care, new research has found.

The report from Dignity in Dying, which campaigns for assisted dying, said a small but significant minority of people will “suffer intolerably” throughout the final months, weeks and days of their lives.

It found that even if every dying person who needed it had access to the level of care currently provided in hospices, 591 people in Scotland a year would still have no relief from their pain in the final three months of their life.

The research found 41 per cent of members of the public questioned have witnessed a dying family member or friend suffer “unbearably” towards the end of their life.

More than four in ten (46 per cent) of Scottish healthcare professionals have experience of caring for someone who has suffered at the end of their life despite receiving high quality palliative care.

The report calls for assisted dying to be legalised in Scotland to give people a “further option of escaping or avoiding a period of unbearable suffering at the end of lives”.

Ally Thomson, director of Dignity in Dying Scotland, said: “The experiences outlined in this report are truly harrowing. It is not an easy read. We fully support improved funding for and access to palliative care, but the testimonies in the report show that even the best care has limits.

“This is the inescapable truth that can no longer be glossed over or explained away – that even with universal access to palliative care, a significant minority of Scots will still experience unbearable and unrelieved suffering as they die.

“They are the collateral damage of a prohibition on assisted dying in Scotland.”

Six in ten (62 per cent) of Scottish healthcare professions believe there are circumstances in which doctors or nurses have intentionally hastened death as a compassionate response to a patient’s request to end their suffering.

But Dr Gordon Macdonald, chief executive of Care Not Killing, said: “Euthanasia and assisted suicide would undermine palliative care rather than improve it.

“They are diametrically opposed to palliative care, which is about caring for the person and making life as comfortable and fulfilling as possible until it comes to a natural end.”

The polling of 122 healthcare professionals was carried out by YouGov, while 1,057 members of the public were questioned by Populus. Both polls were carried out in March.