July 31, 2008

What Good Will Suspension of Doctor Achieve?

AS A hospital consultant who frequently shared patients with Dr Iain Kerr over a long period, I am appalled at the decision to suspend him for six months. What good will that do? In my opinion and the opinion of my former colleagues, he was known as an outstanding, kind and caring doctor who always had the best interest of his patients at heart. Exceptionally, he went out of his way to keep regular contact with hospital staff concerning his patients and my many conversations with him demonstrated how much time and thought he put into ensuring his patients got the best possible care, and were of great help in the management of his patients.

I have no idea who are the current lay and medical members of the GMC but, as in all areas of life, there are always a few seeking high office who are not necessarily motivated by altruism, and their appointment may conceal a degree of self-interest, whether self- aggrandisement or the prospect of future award, which may or may not be pecuniary - obviously not in the case of the GMC.

I was contemplating requesting the GMC to strike me off its register on a separate matter and the decision to suspend Dr Kerr has convinced me to do so. No doubt I will be labelled a curmudgeonly old cynic but the above decision just confirms that, while I have the greatest respect for so many members of my profession, I no longer wish to be associated with "the great and the good" in a profession in which today caring sometimes appears to take second place to procedure.

John Sinclair, 7 Bridgegait, Milngavie.

PAUL Brownsey invites me to clarify a "curious remark" in my letter of July 27, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so.

I was attempting to address two perceived ways of excepting doctors from the law touching homicide and suicide. The first is implied in letters of support for Dr Iain Kerr which argued that he should not be brought to book because he was compassionate; the second by suggesting a change in the law, presumably to allow doctors to administer lethal doses to those who requested it or who, in the doctors' opinion, lacked sufficient quality of life.

In answer to the first, I pointed out that if compassion were a principle in law, it would apply to everyone ("If doctors were permitted to assist and dispatch, why would it be wrong for others, protesting their compassion, to do likewise?"). In response to the second, I argued that the principle that "no-one may compass the death of another" should not allow exceptions ("doctors are not, nor should be, placed above or outside the law").

The law in question is fundamental in jurisprudence and derives from natural law. Any attempt by legislators to breach this principle would not only alter irretrievably the relationship of confidence between doctors and their patients but also subtly undermine the basis of the laws protecting human life and society.

Mario Conti, Archbishop of Glasgow, 196 Clyde Street, Glasgow.

ARCHBISHOP Conti asks: "If doctors were permitted to assist and dispatch, why would it be wrong for others, protesting their compassion, to do likewise?" The obvious answer is that it would be wrong because these others, not being doctors, would not be permitted to do so. Currently, only medical staff are permitted to turn off a patient's life-support system; it is unclear why the archbishop thinks assisted suicide or euthanasia should be treated differently. Perhaps he should stick to rhetorical questions to which he knows the answers.

Dr David Shaw, Lecturer in Ethics, Glasgow University.

Originally published by Newsquest Media Group.

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