Scots doctor who helped patients die speaks out

Dr Iain Kerr has spoken openly for the first time about helping a number of patients die. Picture: PA
Dr Iain Kerr has spoken openly for the first time about helping a number of patients die. Picture: PA
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POLICE have been told to make enquiries into statements by a Scottish GP after he spoke out about helping patients who wanted take their own lives.

Dr Iain Kerr, who retired in 2011, said there had been three occasions where he had prescribed medicines to people considering suicide due to their lives being made intolerable by their medical circumstances.

Yesterday the Crown Office said it had asked police to look at whether any new evidence was available after previously looking into a number of deaths and deciding not to start any proceedings.

Dr Kerr said he had supplied an elderly couple in their 80s with sleeping tablets so they could kill themselves at the same time.

He also admitted telling another pensioner how many antidepressants he needed to take to end his life. He then visited the patient while the overdose took effect.

In 2008 the doctor, who worked in Williamwood Medical Centre in Clarkston, East Renfrewshire, was suspended from practicing for six months after being found guilty of misconduct by the General Medical Council for giving sleeping pills to a suicidal patient.

Dr Kerr said all the cases were reported to the procurator fiscal but no action was taken because it was not in the public interest for a prosecution to take place.

Yesterday a Crown Office spokeswoman said: “Dr Kerr was investigated in the past in respect of his involvement in a number of deaths which were referred to in the press.

“After consideration of the available evidence no proceedings meantime were instructed. We have instructed the police to make enquiries into whether there is any new evidence available. Any new evidence will be considered by Crown Counsel.

“There is no crime of assisted suicide in Scotland, where, depending on the particular facts and circumstances of the case, the law of homicide may apply. Any change in the law related to homicide is properly a matter for the Scottish Parliament.”

Dr Kerr said in the cases where he had supplied drugs the patients “felt that life had become intolerable for them for one reason or another”.

He said he had insisted that the patients talked to their families about what they wanted to do and once the medication had been prescribed it was in their hands whether or not they wanted to take an overdose.

Asked why he had decided to help the patients in this way, Dr Kerr said: “Because they asked me and I thought the request was reasonable.”

The doctor said he was not concerned by the prospect of a new investigation. He added: “I am very happy to

co-operate with any investigation that takes place.”

Campaigners said they hoped more doctors would enter the debate about assisted dying after Dr Kerr had decided to speak out as MSP Margo MacDonald prepares to bring a new bill to the Scottish Parliament on the issue.

“I wanted to support Margo MacDonald and her bill,” he said. “Anything I can do to raise the debate and air the issues I am very pleased to do so.”

Yesterday Ms MacDonald welcomed Dr Kerr’s decision to speak out.

“He is the only one who has done it and I think he feels that he should do it in the hope that other people will join him, because he knows there are other people,” she said.

The MSP said she believed the the actions of Dr Kerr may encourage other doctors to speak out.

“It should reassure them that they can continue to care for a patient and demonstrate that the care at the end of a patient’s life should be guided by the patient and allow the patient to achieve as peaceful a death as they can get,” she said.

“GPs have consciences and some of them will find that the idea or assisted dying, helping someone to achieve a peaceful death, fits with their conscience and beliefs while for others it may not.”

Dr Libby Wilson, medical adviser to Glasgow-based campaign group Friends at the End (Fate), said: “He is a very quiet man so it is extra brave of him to come out like this. It shows how strongly he feels about it.”