Sunday, 20 June 2010

I had calling from God to be a doctor, says GP who admits to shortening patients' lives

Dr. Howard Martin, age 75, has admitted he shortened the lives of "scores" of patients by administering large doses of opiate drugs (morphine/diamorphine), to enable them to die at home. He did this out of "Christian compassion":
"I don't believe I've killed any patients. I believe I've made them comfortable in their hour of need. But I am deemed to be arrogant because I used my discretion. They want to extrapolate that to say I'm choosing to kill people. It's not like that. The patients are about to die and I want to make sure they are comfortable. How can a so-called caring society not understand that? How can I be reckless with someone who is about to die?"
Dr. Martin is no doubt correct that there are serious problems with end of life care in the UK and that there is frequently a dissonance between public opinion and criminal law regarding voluntary euthanasia. However, he has also admitted that in two cases he hastened patients deaths without their permission. Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said:
"I'm horrified that the doctor seemed to indicate in the interview that he actually hastened the death of two patients without their consent - I'm speechless."
It is perhaps unsurprising that the GMC panel found that he had an "autocratic attitude" and believed he was always right.
“On Judgment Day I will have to answer to God, and my answer will be this: that I did my best for my patients.”
Dr. Martin's frequent religious references seem to indicate that there is a link between his faith and his medical care (or lack thereof, depending on viewpoint). As considered in a previous post, to make decisions using texts that exalt the stories of a group of iron-age shepherds (instead of using a process of rational and exhaustive ethical decision-making) is a recipe for poor decisions in which the patient comes second to the decision-maker's desire for supernatural approval.

For these reasons, and in spite of the importance of the topic and need for its careful reform, I find it difficult to imagine a worse medically-trained ambassador for end of life care issues than Dr. Martin.

OK, maybe one.

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