August 28, 2008

Suicide Row Doctor Told He Can Keep His Practice


A GP who gave sleeping pills to a suicidal patient will be allowed to retain his practice, health officials ruled last night.

But Dr Iain Kerr, 61, was suspended from practising medicine for six months after prescribing the tablets to a retired businesswoman considering suicide.

The doctor was found guilty of misconduct following a hearing by the General Medical Council (GMC) last month and faced having the contract for his Glasgow practice terminated.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said last night it was required to remove Dr Kerr's name from the list of GPs in the board area, but his practice would remain open. Locums will attend to patients at the surgery in the Clarkston area during his suspension, the body said.

A statement said: "We will be writing to patients who have contacted the board expressing concern about Dr Kerr's situation, explaining how general medical services will continue to be provided at the Williamwood Medical Centre during Dr Iain Kerr's suspension.

"Once the suspension has been served, Dr Kerr has the right to reapply to be reinstated to the list of general medical practitioners in the board area."

Last night, up to 50 supporters of Dr Kerr cheered the decision which allayed fears that he would lose his job. Dr Kerr said: "I'm delighted to say that the Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board have decided not to terminate my contract."

He was suspended for six months in July after being found guilty of misconduct by the GMC for prescribing sleeping pills to an elderly woman, known as "Patient A" so that she could kill herself.

In 1998, he prescribed 20 sodium amytal tablets to the then 87- year-old patient who had osteoporosis after she told him she had considered suicide.

Though the patient did kill herself, she did not use the pills given to her by Dr Kerr. She had disposed of them when he was investigated over his remarks in an appraisal that his "achievements" included helping patients at the end of their lives.

The nine-day GMC hearing in Manchester found that he prescribed the woman with sodium amytal "solely for the purpose of ending her life".

Dr Kerr admitted to police that he had falsely told some patients he was a member of the Euthanasia Society, "because it gives patients the choice of discussing end-of-life matters".

Kenneth Murchie, 71, of Mearnskirk, Glasgow, and his wife are patients of Dr Kerr. Mr Murchie said: "I'm delighted by this decision and that common sense has prevailed to some extent.

"But I still think the six months' suspension is unnecessary and doesn't serve any purpose whatsoever. Dr Kerr is a wonderful GP, he has a marvellous manner and has the full support of everyone I know.

"I have no doubt that whatever he did was driven by compassion. The son of the woman who died even said he totally supports Dr Kerr."

Dr David Bain, a lecturer in medical ethics and philosophy at the University of Glasgow, said: "More people are taking the view that passive euthanasia is justifiable and morally permissible. From there, it is no step at all to moving to something like physician- assisted suicide after assessment by a panel of experts."

Attempting to assist a suicide constitutes a criminal offence in Scotland.


1998: Dr Kerr prescribes pills to suicidal woman.

December 2005: The woman overdoses on Temazepam tablets, but lives.

Two days later Dr Kerr prescribes more tablets. Woman kills herself later that month with different tablets.

May 2004: Dr Kerr admits at NHS appraisal he has some "experience" of euthanasia.

Dr Kerr admits to police he tells people he is, or was, a member of the Euthanasia Society.

22 July, 2008: the GMC finds him guilty of misconduct. Suspended for six months.

27 July NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde decides not to terminate his employment.

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