01 Oct Assisted dying: Medical director with incurable lung cancer calls for a review of existing laws | UK News
A leading professor with incurable cancer has called for a review of assisted dying laws saying “I want some control in my final days”.
Professor Paul Cosford, emeritus medical director at Public Health England (PHE), said he is aware that his lung cancer – diagnosed three years ago – will “end my life before many more years pass”.
The 57-year-old, who has never smoked, wrote in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that his “biggest fear around dying is the lack of control”.
He added: “The lack of ability, if all becomes too much, to advance the end a little, to take some control in my final days.
“I might have a diamorphine pump at that time, and the idea of having an extra vial in the fridge for me to use if I need it is appealing.
“But I know it cannot be prescribed legally for this purpose, so is not really an option.
“Despite helpful conversations with excellent palliative care specialists, this final element of choice and self-determination seems to evade me.”
Prof Cosford said he never wanted to be a supporter of changing the law in favour of assisted dying.
But he said a prescription to allow him to bring forward the end of his life would mean that he, and others in a similar position, “could have more open conversations with our carers about how our lives will end”.
“Conversations that include clear and practical options that I would probably not take up.
“But knowing those options were there would help me live better now and with less concern about the end of life.”
Prof Cosford said there are dangers, such as assisted dying becoming the expectation rather than an option, and the possible devaluation of the lives of people who are seriously ill or disabled.
“These are genuine concerns,” he wrote. “Yet I am sure that a careful look at other countries’ experiences can help us get this right so we can learn from where it works well, identify the risks, and agree how to mitigate them.
“I am convinced that it is time to look at this again.
“A review that takes account of changing views across wider society seems timely.
“We need to set aside entrenched positions on each side of the debate and look openly at the problems faced by people at the end of their lives.”
He said the fact that rational, law-abiding people travel to Switzerland to end their lives while their loved ones are sometimes prosecuted suggests current arrangements “are inhumane”.
Prof Cosford wrote that his cancer, which has been stable for two years, is growing again, adding: “I will probably live another year or two. Who knows, maybe more?”
He said his current strategy is to “keep calm and carry on”, spending time with loved ones.
But he added: “I try hard not to, but inevitably I sometimes ponder how I will die.
“I know there is tumour close to vital structures in my chest, I have a permanently collapsed lobe in one lung, and there is the liver metastasis, there at diagnosis, which might grow again.
“In some ways I hope it will be an infection that takes me, as that may be a quicker and kinder option.
“Perhaps, paradoxically, COVID-19 or flu, which I have worked so hard to control over the years as a public health professional, will come to my aid.”