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Defending life from the moment of conception

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Leading medical academics reject legalised euthanasia

15 October 2001

Leading medical academics reject legalised euthanasia London, 15 October 2001--Eminent medical scholars speaking at a prestigious ethical conference have rejected the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia. Speaking at Ethical Dilemmas at the Beginning and End of Life: the Clinician's Challenge, Dr Raanan Gillon, emeritus professor of medical ethics at Imperial College, London, said: "I have changed my mind over the years about the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia. It would do more harm than good. The confusion it would make between forseeing and intending a patient's death could lead to doctors like Harold Shipman using the excuse that they were simply 'withholding life-prolonging treatment'." Dr Gillon also warned that legalising euthanasia could lead to some doctors' convincing patients that they should accept death. Dr Daniel Callahan, senior fellow at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts, said: "I agree totally with Professor Gillon. If euthanasia is legalised, many physicians will refuse to co-operate with it. The application of mercy-killing has no logical boundaries. All physical pain and suffering can be relieved by palliative care. Dignity can only be thought of as inherent, not contingent on physical condition." Other speakers and participants at the conference raised concerns about other questions do to with euthanasia. Professor Rebecca Dresser, professor of law and ethics in medicine at Washington University, Missouri, highlighted the danger of vulnerable patients' being denied treatment because doctors, relatives or proxy decision-makers deemed the patient's life as not worth living. An SPUC spokesman said: "We are heartened to know that such eminent doctors and ethicists are aware of the dangers of legalising euthanasia. At the same time, we would draw attention to two areas in which euthanasia is already gaining ground: legally-sanctioned starvation/dehydration of PVS sufferers, and the neglect of care for very elderly patients, hastening death in some cases. We hope that the whole medical profession, as well as policy-makers, will heed the warnings coming from this conference." Ethical Dilemmas at the Beginning and End of Life: the Clinician's Challenge is being hosted today by the Royal Society of Medicine in London and is organised by the society and the New York Academy of Medicine.

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