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Assisted dying: legal ambiguity lets down families as well as patients

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 19 August 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4453
  1. Colin Brewer, writer, researcher, and former psychiatrist, London, UK
  1. brewerismo{at}

Psychiatric assessment of UK patients who choose to travel to Switzerland for an assisted death has given Colin Brewer insight into what it means to them—and to their loved ones

I saw some horrible deaths as a student that even modern palliative care would not have palliated much. Later, I was active in the pressure group the Voluntary Euthanasia Society (now called Dignity in Dying). And, in the past few years, I have done several psychiatric assessments of people who wanted to go to Switzerland to die in their own time rather than in God’s.

Many doctors fear that, if they write reports for patients who are planning an assisted death (I prefer “medically assisted rational suicide”1), they risk a General Medical Council hearing or even a criminal charge for assisting suicide. The defence societies urge extreme caution. Not being on the medical register means that, although I am qualified to write such reports, I can ignore …

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