[Comment: Unfortunately, it is becoming routine in the US that doctors (or others) who kill are aquitted or not charged at all. This leads to defacto euthanasia without changing laws against euthanasia/assisted suicide. A few years ago in Missouri, a prosector wanted to bring charges against a family that admitted “helping” their mother with a lethal overdose However, the outcry by supporters convinced him that he could not find a jury that would convict so he dropped the charges. I’m afraid that the public seduced by pro-assisted suicide arguments of “compassion” has no idea how dangerous this is. N. Valko RN]
A GP cleared of murdering three patients has broken his long silence to admit that he did hasten their deaths as well as those of dozens of others in his care. Dr Howard Martin, once feared to be a “second Harold Shipman”, told The Daily Telegraph that he gave what proved to be fatal doses of painkillers to elderly and terminally ill patients.
But he said he only acted out of “compassion” and was merely trying to limit their suffering rather than “playing God”.
He disclosed that, in two cases, he hastened the deaths of patients without their permission, while one of those to whom he administered a final injection was his son, Paul, 31, when he was dying from cancer in May 1988.
Dr Martin, 75, spoke out as the General Medical Council struck him off for professional misconduct, ruling that he had hastened the deaths of 18 patients in “egregious, despicable and dangerous” conduct.
He accepted that his confession put him at risk of “spending the rest of my life in prison” if it prompted police to reopen his case.
He did not talk about what he had done during his triple murder trial, subsequent inquests or the GMC hearing. But Dr Martin said he decided to speak out to call for reform of a system of care, which – he claims – takes the “soft” option of confining the terminally ill to hospitals and hospices rather than allowing them the “dignity” of dying at home with their loved ones.
“A vet would put a dog down, but under the current system a doctor is not allowed to take positive action to help a patient in a humane way,” he said.
“I don’t believe I’ve killed any patients. I believe I’ve made them comfortable in their hour of need. But I am deemed to be arrogant because I used my discretion.
“They want to extrapolate that to say I’m choosing to kill people. It’s not like that. The patients are about to die and I want to make sure they are comfortable. How can a so-called caring society not understand that? How can I be reckless with someone who is about to die?”
Dr Martin, a former Army doctor and police surgeon who qualified in 1958, was arrested in May 2004 in Newton Aycliffe, Co Durham, at one of his three surgeries. Relations of an elderly cancer patient raised concerns with police after his death and a post mortem examination showed high levels of diamorphine in his system.
The doctor was suspended by the medical watchdog and, after more bodies were exhumed, he was charged with murdering three former patients.
Shipman, Britain’s most prolific serial killer with an estimated 258 victims, once briefly worked as a locum at Dr Martin’s practice.
Dr Martin stood trial at Teesside Crown Court but was found not guilty of killing Frank Moss, 59, Stanley Weldon and Harry Gittins, both 74.
It then emerged that police first investigated him in 2000 after complaints from nurses at the charity Macmillan Cancer Support. He remained suspended after his acquittal while police and a coroner looked into the deaths of dozens of other patients in case sufficient evidence could be found for fresh charges.
It was announced in February 2007 that no further action would be taken against Dr Martin.
Inquests took place earlier this year into the deaths of the three men whom Dr Martin was accused of killing, but the coroner insisted he was “not on trial”. They ended with one verdict of misadventure and two open verdicts. The coroner claimed that the drugs given to two of the men were not “clinically justified”.
A disciplinary hearing, which started in May and ended on Friday, heard that Dr Martin was “arrogant and single-minded” as well as “reckless”, and concluded that the injections given to 18 patients “hastened their death, thereby removing their fundamental right to life”.
His actions were said to be “extremely serious and widespread”, while he had an “autocratic” attitude and “exploited his position”.
Prof Gomes da Costa, the chairman of the panel, said: “In view of the very serious nature of its findings, the panel has determined it is necessary in the public interest that Dr Martin’s registration should be suspended forthwith.”
Dr Martin refused on legal advice to speak at the murder trial or the inquests. He did not attend the GMC hearing in Manchester and was not represented.
But from his home on the North Wales coast, he acknowledged for the first time that he hastened the final moments of some of his patients.
He claimed that the established way of dealing with terminally ill patients often went against their best interests, and that it was cruel to keep people alive in hospitals or hospices when all they wanted to do was die. Dr Martin said that, during three decades as a GP, he made no secret of his views. “I just promised people that they could die free from pain and with dignity,” he said.
“Most times patients and relatives were of an accord and wanted the patient to be free from pain and have dignity. In that scenario, I would take control by keeping people asleep until they had passed over.
“I twice helped people die, not because they wanted to die but because they had such dreadful suffering. Everyone else wanted to [die] – they could make that choice.
Speaking about his dying son, he said: “What more could I do for him other than make sure he had dignity?”
Dr Martin, who believes that about half of all doctors give injections to those who are about to die, said he felt no guilt or remorse.
“On Judgment Day I will have to answer to God, and my answer will be this: that I did my best for my patients.”
Despite the secrecy of the GMC proceedings, The Daily Telegraph has identified all 18 of those whose deaths were investigated by lawyers and leading medical experts over a 10-year period.
In some cases, their relations lent Dr Martin their full support, with one describing him as “an angel of mercy”. In others, the bereaved said their loved ones were victims of a doctor who willfully and “arrogantly” betrayed their trust.
Police sources suggested that Dr Martin was investigated over a total of “30 or 40” deaths.
[18 June 2010, Nigel Bunyan, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/7839369/Murder-case-GP-Dr-Howard-Martin-I-helped-patients-die.html ; N Valko RN, 19June10]