Call to let doctors assist dying

Supreme Court justices ruled against Jane Nicklinson, whose late husband Tony suffered locked-in syndrome, and Paul Lamb

Supreme Court justices ruled against Jane Nicklinson, whose late husband Tony suffered locked-in syndrome, and Paul Lamb

First published in National News © by

Patients should have health professionals equivalent to midwives to help them end their lives if necessary, a leading doctor has said.

Professor John Ashton said doctors should be able to assist those who want to die rather than "keeping people going at any price".

The p resident of the Faculty of Public Health spoke out ahead of a debate later this month on a bill proposed by Lord Falconer on assisted dying.

Prof Ashton told the Guardian he was speaking in a personal capacity and said his own choice would be "to be able to call on a doctor to help me take this last step".

Cross-party think-tank Demos, which worked with Lord Falconer over a two-year period on the issue, said the majority of people support assisted dying in principle.

"Assisted dying is an emotive issue and understandably provokes strong reactions on both sides," said chief executive Claudia Wood.

"But the majority of the public do support assisted dying in principle - it's right that politicians have a chance to discuss the possibility of legislating on this issue."

Prof Ashton said: "All over the country people are spending their last days and weeks in major discomfort because their medical carers are not willing to accept that it's the end of the line and to give them the necessary sedation to just speed things up a bit.

"We need an equivalent of a midwife at the end of life."

Last month a paralysed former builder and the widow of a man who had locked-in syndrome lost their right-to-die fight in the Supreme Court.

Justices ruled against Paul Lamb and Jane Nicklinson by a seven-two majority - but ruled by a five-four margin that the court did have the ''constitutional authority'' to declare that a general prohibition on assisted suicide was incompatible with the human right to private and family life.

In the wide-ranging interview Prof Ashton spoke on a range of other issues, raising concerns about the challenges young people face in the world, and labelling mental health services for children and adolescents "a disgrace".

In the area of mental health the 67-year-old medical professional said he was worried about the suicide rate among adult males, and also called for a four-day week to tackle stress.

The "early sexualisation" of young people is also a major issue, he said, adding that they are not getting "proper sex and relationships education".

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