Letter to Times for publication Thursday, March 1st 2007  

Phone contact for queries - Dr Rob George 07880 555 075 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Morphine kills pain, not patients

Sir,

As specialists in palliative medicine who care daily for patients with advanced diseases, including those approaching death, we are deeply concerned that some media reports are giving the misleading impression that doctors are administering morphine to dying patients in the knowledge that it will kill them.

This is a very common misconception, which is based on outdated perceptions of medical practice and does not reflect the reality of modern clinical work. Advances in the science of analgesia and modern techniques of pain relief, such as those highlighted in the peer-reviewed journal Palliative Medicine this morning, mean that there is no question today of having to kill patients in order to kill pain.

It is vitally important that everyone, and dying people especially, should understand that morphine and drugs like it, properly used to control pain,

do not hasten death. Misinformation of this kind can cause unnecessary worry and fear. To this end we would encourage the media and opinion-formers to help ensure that the public, and especially those most vulnerable to alarmist misinformation, are properly informed. Public commentators who persist in making these assertions have a duty to name their sources since the use of toxic levels of morphine is both negligent and unlawful.

It is essential that the best quality palliative care pioneered and practised in this country be made readily accessible to everyone who needs it. We therefore also call on the Government to provide parliamentary time for Baroness Finlay's Palliative Care Bill, which had an unopposed second reading in the House of Lords last Friday.

Dr John Wiles, Chairman, Association for Palliative Medicine of Great Britain and Ireland, Southampton SO17 1DL Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Bromley Hospitals NHS Trust

Dr Bill Noble, Chairman Elect, Association for Palliative Medicine, Macmillan Senior Lecturer in Palliative Medicine, Trent Palliative Care Centre, Sheffield S11 9NE

Dr Andrew Thorns, Chairman, Ethics Committee, Association for Palliative Medicine; Consultant and Honorary Senior Lecturer in Palliative Care, Pilgrims Hospice and East Kent NHS Trust, Margate CT9 4AD.

Prof Sam H Ahmedzai, Academic Unit of Supportive Care, Section of Oncology University of Sheffield S10 2JF

Prof Geoff Hanks, Department of Palliative Medicine, Bristol Haematology & Oncology Centre, Bristol, BS2 8ED

Dr Rob George Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Meadow House, Ealing PCT

UB1 3HW Honorary Senior Lecturer, Biomedical Ethics, UCL

Drs Craig Gannon and Andrew Hoy, Consultants in Palliative Medicine, Princess Alice Hospice, Esher Surrey

Dr Alex Nicholson, Consultant in Palliative Medicine, The James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough TS4 3BW

Dr David Oliver, Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Wisdom Hospice Rochester & Institute of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Kent

Dr Claud Regnard, Consultant in Palliative Care Medicine St. Oswald's Hospice Newcastle upon Tyne NE3 5J

Dr Claud Regnard, Consultant in Palliative Care Medicine St. Oswald's Hospice Newcastle upon Tyne NE3 5J