When will we start to afford humans the same dignity as our pets?
Dr David Turner
On 7 February, Geoff Whaley, who had been suffering from motor neurone disease, died peacefully in the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.
Another patient suffering from an appalling disease had to spend part of the last of his precious time on earth flying to Switzerland to receive the dignified end to his life he wanted.
Cases like this one are sadly not uncommon. On average, every eight days a Briton travels to Dignitas for help to die. Many patients with terminal and irreversible diseases have taken their case to the High Court, in an attempt to get the law changed to allow assisted dying in the UK.
What was particularly sad in Geoff Whaley’s case was not just that in this supposedly civilised and medically advanced country, he could not legally receive the medical assistance he needed to choose the time and manner of his own death, but that also his wife was investigated by the police for assisting his suicide. She apparently helped him book the flights to Switzerland, as he had lost the use of his hands.
As doctors, our own views, whether based on religion or culture, are irrelevant
The issue of assisted dying naturally divides the medical profession and brings out those with strong views on both sides of the argument. Standing back from these divided lines, I would say we should, as doctors, act purely in our patients’ best interests, full stop. Our own views, whether based on religion or culture, are irrelevant - our job is to do what is best for the patient in front of us. This principle applies to anything in medicine, from abortion to treating drug dependency - our personal opinions need to be left at home.
The politicians are not going to stand up and be counted on this one. We as the medical profession need to take the lead. I would urge doctors to register their support with Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying.
Think back to the 17-year-old you, when asked at your medical school interview why you wanted to do medicine. Your answer would have been, more or less, ‘to help people’.
Dr David Turner is a GP in North West London