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Assisted dying: MPs hear evidence from doctors as Westminster mulls changes

BMJ 2023; 381 doi: (Published 25 May 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;381:p1208
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

What approach might the UK take on legislation? Gareth Iacobucci listens in on a session where doctors from jurisdictions that offer assisted dying share their experiences

“Palliative care and voluntary assisted dying are not mutually exclusive. They work together and many patients who are exploring voluntary assisted dying or going through the process are still accessing palliative care.”

So said Brian Owler, a consultant neurosurgeon in Australia who chaired the ministerial advisory panel on voluntary assisted dying in Victoria, the first Australian state to legalise voluntary assisted dying in 2017. Palliative care has not been sidelined since the changes in the law were enacted, he said.

Owler, along with colleagues from Australia, New Zealand, and the US, was giving evidence to UK MPs on 16 May as part of a parliamentary inquiry12 into assisted dying and assisted suicide. The cross-party health and social care select committee is gathering evidence from jurisdictions where assisted dying is legal to help determine what approach the UK might take to legislating on the matter.

Differing views from palliative care

Owler’s comments on palliative care were in response to concerns raised by Roderick MacLeod, a palliative care specialist who opposes assisted dying based on his 30 year career, including periods working in Australia and New Zealand. He retired from practice in 2019, before New Zealand legalised assisted dying in November 2021.

“Requests for a hastened death are not uncommon in palliative care,” MacLeod told MPs. “What I know from my own practice and the practice of my colleagues is that after a length of time in the palliative care service, those requests for hastened …

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