14 March 2013, 14:50

Retired doctor confesses to assisted suicide in Scotland

Retired doctor confesses to assisted suicide in Scotland

A retired Scottish general practitioner claimed that assisted dying should be an option for doctors to provide to their patients, at the time when a new bill legalizing such practice was proposed to the Scottish Parliament. The doctor confessed to giving deadly pills to patients willing to end their lives.

Retired GP Dr. Iain Kerr, 66, who practiced at the Williamwood Medical Centre in Clarkston, East Renfrewshire, confirmed that he advised one chronically ill retiree on the correct dosage of antidepressants to take in order to die and also supplied one married couple in their 80s with prescription sleeping pills so they could end their lives together in 1990.

He believed his actions at the time were in the best interest of the patients. “I think there should be a change in the law because my personal experience is that there are people suffering distressing symptoms at the end of life which cannot all be palliated, and while people should be offered all the available treatments, there may be times when their preferred course of action will be suicide or to be assisted to die,” he said. “I feel the law is out of step with what is socially acceptable to a large number of people,” he added.

Dr. Kerr claimed that in each case he insisted, the patients were full and frank with their relatives about the planned assisted suicides. “The situations were such that the people involved felt that life had become intolerable for them, for one reason or another. They were people I thought who had the mental capacity to look at the options and decided it was the best course of action for them. I had to make a decision to advise them what to do and I made them a prescription for drugs if taken in an overdose would have been enough for them to die."

After the doctor’s confession the Crown Office asked the Scottish police to review the cases of assisting the patients to die. In 2008, the General Medical Council suspended Kerr for six months for misconduct after he supplied another elderly patient with sodium amytal, a sleeping tablet, though she later died using other drugs, and he is no longer a registered GP.

The Crown Office spokeswoman said "Dr Kerr was investigated in the past in respect of his involvement in a number of deaths which were referred to in today's press. We have instructed the police to make enquiries into whether there is any new evidence available. Any new evidence will be considered by the Crown counsel”.

The law on assisted suicide in Scotland is ambiguous, untested and has not been specifically outlawed. "There is no crime of assisted suicide in Scotland, where, depending on the particular facts and circumstances of the case, the law of homicide may apply. Any change in the law related to homicide is properly a matter for the Scottish parliament," commented the Crown Office spokeswoman.

Margo MacDonald, an Independent Member of the Scottish Parliament, is proposing a new Bill to legalize the practice for the second time. The first “End of Life Assistance Bill” was brought before the Scottish Parliament in January 2010, but was rejected by the majority.

Between 2003 and 2006 Lord Joffe made four attempts to introduce bills that would have legalized assisted suicide, but all were rejected by the UK Parliament.

Assisted suicide is already legal in Belgium, Luxemburg, Switzerland, the Netherlands and three American states (Oregon, Washington and Montana). Suicide is not a crime in Canada, but physician-assisted suicide is considered illegal.

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