Page 1, 4th February 2000

4th February 2000
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Page 1, 4th February 2000 — Multiple medical murders prompt calls for return to hippocratic ideal
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Multiple medical murders prompt calls for return to hippocratic ideal

Government attacked for 'hypocrisy' over Shipman mass murder case

By Simon Caldwell

THE GOVERNMENT has been accused of "breathtaking hypocrisy" for condemning convicted serial killer Dr Harold Shipman while turning a blind eye to the unlawful killing of patients in health service hospitals.

It came under fire from medical ethics groups who demanded an instant return to hippocratic medicine to protect the sick and to prevent other serious abuses. Among them was the Medical Ethics Alliance, which comprises more than 6,000 doctors.

Its chairman, Dr Tony Cole, said: "The best protection for patients is the care of doctors who have publicly taken an oath never to harm or kill their patients and who have based their professional lives upon it.

"Such an oath has long been abandoned by most medical schools. It is clear that safeguards established by law have failed in this case and the alliance would welcome a full inquiry to discover why.

"I think that the law cannot adequately protect people is abundantly clear from the Shipman tragedy. The British Medical Association's efforts to promote self-regulation and public protection are frankly pathetic."

Dr Shipman was given 15 life sentences on Monday for the murders by injection with diamorphine of as many women, with the judge recommending he never be released from jail. Police believe he might have murdered scores of others in his 30-year career.

During sentencing, Mr Justice Forbes told the Hyde-based GP: "I have little doubt each of your victims smiled and thanked you as she submitted to your fearful ministrations."

But as the Government announced an inquiry, it was also sharply criticised by SOS-NHS Patients in Danger, a group formed by relatives of patients who were not dying but were starved and dehydrated to death in the National Health Service, and in some cases given lethal doses of diamorphine.

"The hypocrisy of government ministers has been breathtaking," said spokeswoman Julia Quenzler, who, as the BBC court artist, was present for much of the trial of Dr Shipman at Preston Crown Court.

"Quick to condemn Dr Shipman of 'betraying the trust in his patients', the Government is happy to collude with the BMA in advising doctors to starve and dehydrate vulnerable patients to death in NHS hospitals — even if they are not dying.

"Compare Health Secretary Alan Milburn's words of sympathy and condolence for the bereaved relatives of Dr Shipman's victims with his insulting and icy message to the relatives of the victims of unlawful killing in NHS hospitals who are also seeking justice.

"To those traumatised and grieving relatives Mr Milburn said 'unhappy families should sue' and dismissed their allegations as 'ludicrous' in spite of the fact that police are investigating over 60 cases throughout the country."

She added: "The Shipman case highlights the serious flaws and weaknesses of a system obsessed with secrecy and lack of accountability. Protection of the careers of doctors is given priority over the protection of patients' lives."

The BMA last June issued guidelines called Withholding and Withdrawing Life Prolonging Treatment which aim to protect doctors who starve and dehydrate hospital patients to death without recourse to the courts.

Condemned by Scotland's Cardinal Thomas Winning, the guidance also angered many medical professionals and alarmed politicians, one of whom, Congleton MP Ann Winterton, has now introduced a Private Member's Bill to reverse the drift towards legal euthanasia.

Her Medical Treatment (Prevention of Euthanasia) Bill received its Second Reading in the House of Commons last Friday. It will now be scrutinised by a Standing Committee of MPs before it returns to the House on April 14 for its Report Stage.

Drafted with the help of John Finnis, Professor of Law at Oxford University

and Dr John Keown, lecturer in medical law at Cambridge University, it is considered "philosophically pure".

However, it is opposed by the Government because, by shifting the legal focus from the socalled "best interests of the patient" to the "purpose" of the doctor, it closes the loophole that permits involuntary euthanasia to be practiced in the NHS.

Continued on Page Two Editorial Comment—P7




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