July 21, 2008

Suicide Case GP ‘Felt Duty to Help People Wanting to Die’ Emotional Doctor Says Law ‘Out of Step’


A GP who prescribed sleeping pills to a pensioner who wanted to kill herself said he felt he had a duty to help people who wanted to die.

Dr Iain Kerr, who practises in Clarkston, in the suburbs of Glasgow, told a General Medical Council hearing yesterday that the law did not always reflect what was right.

The 61-year-old, who gave the pills to the pensioner as an "insurance policy" after she expressed fears about how she would meet her end, became emotional as he defended his actions.

"In my opinion, sometimes the law of the land is out of step with what might be called natural justice or social justice or with what a significant minority of people think, " he said. "There have been times when owning slaves was legal and women did not have the right to vote and these things we now think of as untenable.

"I think when dealing with someone holding a rational view of the circumstances in which they want to end their life, it was my duty to at least consider whether he or she had a reasonable opinion and that it was my duty to assist if I thought I agreed with that patient's assessment."

Clearly choked, the doctor also said: "My concern was for the wellbeing of these patients who for one reason or another have put their trust in me to assist them."

Dr Kerr, who said he was once a member of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of Scotland, has admitted prescribing the sleeping tablets sodium amytal for the pensioner, known as Patient A, in 1998. The GMC has been told Patient A, a former businesswoman, did not want to become a burden as her health deteriorated.

However, Dr Kerr denies the GMC's charges that he wrote the prescription after she told him she was unhappy with her quality of life and had considered suicide.

He also denies not taking adequate measures to dissuade her from suicide and said he assessed her for depression and psychological illness before giving her the pills. Patient A died aged 87 from an overdose of different drugs, including temazepam, in 2005.

Dr Kerr denied being reckless in issuing her with two prescriptions for temazepam just days after she used the same drug in a failed suicide attempt. However, he admitted the second "rescue" prescription of 28 pills, provided in case she lost any, was in retrospect a mistake.

He said Patient A did not put him under duress to comply with her request for drugs to help her die. However, giving evidence by videolink, her son, known as Mr A, said: "She was a very strong- willed person and she would certainly have argued a case or pursued the doctor.

"I'm sure the doctor would not have provided it without being under a certain amount of duress."

He said his mother, a widower who had loved playing bridge and attending family events, had held Dr Kerr in high regard.

Mr A also talked about how his aunt's battle with bone cancer and subsequent deterioration had a "terrible effect" on his mother. He added: "I have no doubt she personally wanted to do something to finish her life " The hearing continues on Monday.

Originally published by Newsquest Media Group.

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