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A king, a doctor, and a convenient death

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: (Published 28 May 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:1445
  1. J H R Ramsay

    Lord Dawson of Penn was the most admired and respected doctor of his generation. The skill with which he managed King George V's respiratory illness in 1928 undoubtedly saved the king's life and made Dawson a national celebrity. He was also respected within the medical profession. He was president of the Royal College of Physicians, elected twice president of the BMA, and honoured with a viscountcy.

    His reputation would have been considerably diminished, however, had it been known that when the king was suffering from cardiorespiratory failure in January 1936 he administered a lethal combination of morphine and cocaine at a time when the king was already comatose and close to death. His action remained a well kept secret and the truth came to light only 50 years later when his private diary was opened, Dawson having died in 1945.

    The king had been in failing health for several weeks when Queen Mary summoned Dawson to Sandringham on 17 January. Contemporary accounts of the king's last days given by the Archbishop of Canterbury and others tell of days that were tranquil and pain free with the king …

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