Thursday, July 12, 2007

Euthanasia in the UK?

A doctor who admitted to hastening the deaths of two dying babies in an act that the General Medical Council (GMC) described as tantamount to euthanasia has not been found to have committed any professional misconduct. This is interesting because it in some ways opens the door for other acts of euthanasia, in a reasonably limited set of circumstances. It will be interesting to see the reaction around the blogosphere and in the press. Personally, given that the babies were clearly suffering and already dying, I think the action was professionally appropriate. I'm not that convinced by the GMC decision though since they relied on the old doctrine of double effects, claiming that he aimed to relieve suffering and not to hasten death. This seems a misdescription to me, in this case it would seem part of the aim was to relieve suffering through hastening death.
More details below the fold.

Full article here: Baby doctor cleared of misconduct

A doctor who admitted hastening the deaths of two dying babies by injecting them with a paralysing drug has been cleared of misconduct.

Dr Michael Munro, 41, administered the drugs at Aberdeen Maternity Hospital.

The parents of the babies knew what he was doing, and that it would relieve their suffering - but could also hasten their deaths.

Dr Munro said after a hearing that he hoped the decision would mean more discussion on end of life decisions.

The General Medical Council (GMC) hearing ruled the doctor's fitness to practise was not impaired by his actions.

I hope that today's decision will lead to clearer professional guidance for doctors, better patient care and greater support for parents
Dr Michael Munro

The hearing had earlier heard the actions in 2005 were "tantamount to euthanasia".

Dr Munro said after the hearing: "I very much regret any distress that has been caused to the parents of both babies by these proceedings before the General Medical Council.

"I hope that today's decision will promote further consideration of the treatment of neonates and end of life decision making and that this, in turn, will lead to clearer professional guidance for doctors, better patient care and greater support for parents."

"Obviously, I am very relieved by the outcome of the fitness to practise panel hearing and I would like to thank everybody who has supported me over the last few months."

The GMC said he intended to relieve suffering rather than hasten their deaths.

The consultant neonatologist gave 23 times the normal dose of a paralysing muscle relaxant in the final moments before one baby's death.


Martin Cooke said...

To me too this seems like euthanasia; if it ain't, what is?

David Hunter said...

It does seem difficult to describe in any other way. While I recognise the conceptual space for pain relieving that happens to lead to death rather than intending to kill, it does seem hard to argue in this case that this is what happened.