HL Deb 16 July 1997 vol 581 cc112-3WA
Lord Lester of Herne Hill

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Answers given by Baroness Jay of Paddington on 3 July (H.L. Deb., cols 298–301) whether they consider that it is lawful for a doctor or nurse whose primary intention is the relief of severe distress (as distinct from pain), and not the deliberate shortening of the patient's life, to give medication to a terminally ill patient, in accordance with the patient's wishes, to relieve such severe distress, even though the likely consequences may be the shortening of the patient's life.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

We are unaware of any case law which elaborates on what is meant by relief of pain and suffering or distress but consider that, as part of good health care, both physical and mental suffering may require treatment. In my Answer on 3 July I referred to the case ofRegina v Cox and we have the judge's comments to guide us. In summing up the evidence the judge said, "If a doctor genuinely believes that a certain course is beneficial to his patient, either therapeutically or analgesically, then even though he recognises that that course carries with it a risk to life, he is fully entitled, nonetheless to pursue it. If in those circumstances the patient dies, nobody could possibly suggest that in that situation the doctor was guilty of murder or attempted murder". He went on to say: "What can never be lawful is the use of drugs with the primary purpose of hastening the moment of death".