The family doctor whose prescription was death
A GP has given an interview defending his decision to speed his elderly patients’ end. He claims he was motivated by compassion. Now he faces possible murder charges.
A family doctor has admitted that he shortened the life of one of his patients by up to a fortnight and another by “probably a day”.
Dr Howard Martin, a former GP, was acquitted in a triple murder investigation in 2005. But following his latest admission he has been banned from practising as a doctor by the General Medical Council (GMC) and is facing another police murder investigation.
Recalling the death of Harry Gittins, 74, in January 2004, Dr Martin, 75, said after Mr Gittings was discharged from hospital following treatment for oesophageal cancer his wife had wanted him to go back to hospital, but instead Mr Martin visited the couple’s home to treat him. “He said ‘I don’t want to go back in’ and I said ‘You’ll die if you don’t’,” Dr Martin said. “I told him I could make him comfortable at home and that’s what he wanted. That was his choice”.
In the case of Frank Moss, 59, who died in March 2003, Dr. Martin said he had “probably” shortened his life by only a day.
He said his philosophy was all about making patients “comfortable in their hour of need” and that he had no right to be judged by people “who don’t have to take the responsibility that I’ve had to take”.
He said that in the front line of medicine doctors were frequently being called upon to make decisions that were beyond the remit of official guidance.
‘‘It is not illegal any more for someone to take their own life, but it’s against the law to aid somebody. You see someone in pain and you’re not allowed to help them. That’s terrible.”
Mercy or murder?
Bereaved relations described his new admission as one more act of “arrogant cruelty”. Dr Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners said: “I am absolutely horrified about what he has said about what he did and why. The arrogance, the self centred paternalism. It echoes everyone’s worst fears about medicine.”
But Albert Cubitt, whose wife Bessie died aged 78, in 2001, said the GP had suffered “a huge miscarriage of justice”. His wife had asked her doctor about ending her life soon after she was diagnosed with lung cancer. As her condition deteriorated the doctor administered pain relief, and she died soon after. The widower described his former GP as an “angel of mercy”.
- If a terminally ill person asks for help to die and a doctor decides to do what they ask, should it be classified as murder?
- Euthanasia, or the practice of ending a life in a manner which relieves pain and suffering, is illegal in the UK but in a few countries, such as Switzerland, it is permissible as long as the person who wants to die takes an active part in taking the drugs that kill them. Does this sound foolproof to you?
- “Euthanasia is unethical in any situation”. Debate this and have a vote.
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