Retired Scottish GP admits to helping patients die

13 March 2013 Last updated at 10:41

Retired GP Dr Iain Kerr admits helping patients to die

A retired Scottish GP has admitted helping patients end their own lives.

Dr Iain Kerr – who worked in Clarkston, East Renfrewshire – said he prescribed medicines to three people who felt their lives had become intolerable.

The cases were referred to prosecutors who decided it was not in the public interest to take action against him.

Dr Kerr was found guilty of misconduct and suspended from practising medicine for six months in 2008 for giving sleeping pills to a suicidal patient.

The GP, who retired two years ago, told BBC Radio Scotland’s Call Kaye programme that during his career he had prescribed medicines to three people who were considering ending their lives.
‘Mental capacity’

He said: “The people involved felt that life had become intolerable for them for one reason or another.

“These were people who I thought had mental capacity, who had looked at the options, who had decided what was the best course of action for them and come to this conclusion.”

Dr Kerr said that faced with these requests, he had decided to advise the patients on what to do and make a prescription for drugs, which if taken in overdose, would be enough for them to die.

The medic said that on each occasion there was “a fair amount of discussion”.

“I insisted that the people involved should contact their relatives and if the relatives were in agreement with this then I would carry out my part in the agreement,” he said.

Dr Kerr said that once medication was prescribed “the option” to take a fatal overdose was left in the hands of the patient and their family.

The retired GP acknowledged that his role in each of these cases had been illegal but it was not a course of action he took lightly.

“The cases were all reported to the procurator fiscal and in each case the fiscal decided to take no action because it was not in the public interest for a prosecution to take place,” he said.

Dr Kerr’s admission comes as work continues at the Scottish Parliament by independent MSP Margo MacDonald to bring forward another bill to allow assisted suicide.
Assisted dying bill

The Lothian MSP, who has Parkinson’s disease, has claimed there is public support for a change in the law.

Ms MacDonald’s first bill before Holyrood was rejected by 85 votes to 16 with two abstentions.

Dr Kerr said that he believed it should be legal for a doctors “if they wish” to assist their patient to end their lives and this would not interfere in the doctor/patient relationship.

In 2008, the General Medical Council (GMC) found Dr Kerr guilty of misconduct for prescribing sleeping pills to a suicidal patient.

During the hearing, the panel heard that Dr Kerr supplied sodium amytal to the elderly woman, known as Patient A, in 1998.

It was alleged that this was after she had expressed unhappiness with her quality of life and said she had considered suicide.

He also prescribed temazepam to the woman on 1 December 2005 despite a suspected failed suicide attempt two days before.

The woman was found dead at her home 11 days later. The 87-year-old had suffered an overdose of different drugs including temazepam.

The GMC suspended Dr Kerr, who worked out of Williamwood Medical Centre in Clarkston, East Renfrewshire, from practising medicine for six months.

It branded his actions “inappropriate, irresponsible, liable to bring the profession into disrepute and not in your patient’s best interest”.

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