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Doctors no longer help terminally ill patients to enjoy a peaceful death because of the Harold Shipman case, according to a leading consultant.

Speaking in Glasgow, Simon Kenwright, a semi-retired consultant gastroenteologist from East Kent hospital, said fears of prosecution are affecting patient treatment.

In a lecture to 100 members of Friends at the end (Fate), the euthanasia organisation, he said such changes makes the need for legislation to allow assisted dying for the terminally ill more urgent.

Dr Kenwright said that in decades past, doctors would help critically ill patients to shorten their lives peacefully but that the fear of prosecution following the case of Harold Shipman, the serial killer, means such treatment is no longer available.

His call for a change in the law comes less than two weeks after The Herald revealed that a prominent Scottish businesswoman chose to end her life at the Dignitas assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland.

Elisabeth Rivers-Bulkeley, who pioneered the right of women to join the Stock Exchange in London and was one of the founding members of Annabel’s, the exclusive club in London’s Berkeley Square, took a lethal dose of barbiturates in the Zurich centre in December.

Dr Kenwright said: “Thirty years ago she would not have had to have gone to Zurich. Someone would have helped her to have a peaceful death here. Post-Harold Shipman doctors have more police pressures. In the old days we did the best for the patient.

“We have drifted, over the years, to prolonging death as doctors we were taught ethically that you do not allow a patient to suffer unbearably – that was how we were trained 50 years ago.”

Assisted suicide is illegal in the UK and recent attempts to legalise voluntary euthanasia in the UK have failed, despite a poll which showed it was supported by 80% of the population.

Research conducted by Brunel University, London, found from a survey of 857doctors that 200,000 deaths occurred annually in the UK due to “double effect”, in which a doctor can give increasing dosages of a drug to lessen symptoms, whilst knowing this can shorten the patient’s life.

Dr Kenwright said this practice has become less common because of fears of prosecution. He cited the case of Dr Howard Martin, a GP prosecuted and subsequently acquitted of murdering three patients in 2005. Dr Martin gave three terminally ill cancer patients large doses of morphine.

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