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British ethicist calls for legalizing nonconsensual euthanasia

[JURIST] A prominent British medical ethicist is advocating the legalization of euthanasia, including for patients incapable of consent. Len Doyal [CV, PDF], emeritus professor of medical ethics at Queen Mary, University of London, writes in this month's issue of Clinical Ethics [journal website] that physicians cause some patients to suffer a "slow and distressing death" by withdrawing feeding tubes. Changing the law and professional standards would allow doctors to end such patients' lives "swiftly, humanely and without guilt." A British organization that supports physician-assisted suicide, Dignity in Dying [advocacy website], distanced itself from Doyal on Thursday. In a statement [text], the group's chief executive, Deborah Annetts, said: "We do not agree with Professor Doyal that the law needs to be changed for non-competent patients. Dignity in Dying advocates that end of life medical treatment decisions should be based around the competent wishes of terminally ill people." Belgium [JURIST report] and the Netherlands [government materials] have legalized euthanasia in some circumstances.

Doyal supports the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill [text], which is stalled in Parliament, even though it would not allow nonconsensual euthanasia. The bill, which Annetts helped to draft using Oregon's Death With Dignity Act [text, PDF] as a model, would permit assisted suicide for patients with less than six months to live who are experiencing "extreme suffering. The legislation was tabled for six months [JURIST report] by the House of Lords [official website] in May after two physicians groups came out against it [JURIST report]. The British Medical Association [organization website] dropped its opposition to the bill, instead taking a neutral stance. The Guardian has more. BBC News has additional coverage.

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