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Assisted suicide campaign launched

Health professionals are launching a campaign for terminally ill patients to have the right to assisted suicides.

Healthcare Professionals for Change (HPC), comprising doctors, nurses and allied health professionals, is the first professional body purposely established to combat the 1961 Suicide Act.

The group will launch a campaign today opposing the views of the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), which are against changes in legislation.

Founder of the group Dr Ann McPherson, who has terminal pancreatic cancer, revealed that many doctors find it frustrating to see people suffering against their wishes at the end of their lives.

She said: "By taking a hostile approach to a change in the law on assisted dying, medical bodies such as the BMA and the Royal College of Physicians are failing to adequately reflect the views of all their members.

"Alongside access to good-quality end-of-life care, we believe that terminally ill, mentally competent patients should be able to choose an assisted death, subject to safeguards."

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, which backs the group, said: "It's a real move forward.

"It's important for doctors to be able to challenge the views of the BMA and other medical bodies. They need to be able to represent a wider viewpoint."

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) moved from opposing assisted suicide to a neutral position last summer, and the HPC aims to encourage other Royal Colleges and the BMA to follow suit.

But Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA's Head of Sciences and Ethics, said: "Assisted dying is illegal in the UK so doctors are not permitted to help terminally ill competent adults to die."

It is a "complex and emotive issue", she said, but a motion to support assisted suicide has never been passed by BMA members at their annual meetings.

Copyright © Press Association 2010

Dignity in Dying

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"My younger sister recently died of cancer. Even though her end-of-life care was of the highest standard, she died of severe pain, the kind that medical care cannot prevent. I believe in patient autonomy and fully support assisted suicide to the
terminally ill with no prospect of improvement, if that's what they choose" - Kresh Ramanah, London

"I have suffered for many years with the effects of multiple diseases and the punishing effects of the treatments. I want to give your campaign my total support - thank you for thinking of us and how we the patient can deal with dying with dignity and understanding and above all in peace without fear" - Deborah Scarfe, Cornwall

"I feel that all healthcare professionals should remain open-minded about the whole issue of assisted suicide; those who are ready to make that choice should not be put through the added distress of being judged by the very people who should be supporting them through a very difficult time" - Hazel Reece, Wiltshire

"After 30 yrs of cancer nursing and recently watching my dad suffer from a chronic illness I 100% agree with assisted suicide. We wouldn't let animals suffer so why humans!!" - Margaret, Scotland

"I am a District Nurse and I could not take any part in this. Ever. It is wrong" - Cathy, Derbyshire