Dr Charles Skinner, a consultant in palliative medicine in south London, explains in this paper how palliative care has developed in Britain and where it stands in relation to the 'assisted dying' debate.
Observing that Britain is a world leader in this branch of medicine, Dr Skinner cites a 2010 report by The Economist Intelligence Unit, which placed Britain at the top of the international league table and ahead of other developed countries (including the United States, Germany and The Netherlands) for quality of care of the dying.
"Palliative care is not a panacea for serious illness: no branch of medicine is that", he writes.
But recent advances in medical science and clinical practice have transformed the dying process. Though a very small number of determined and strong-minded people might not be harmed by the legalisation of 'assisted dying', "for every such patient there are many others more afraid than resolute, more fearful of the future than wanting to die, more in need of help than of options, who could all too easily find themselves embarked on a course about which they were less than wholehearted but to which they could see no alternative".
Dr Skinner concludes that "compassion for an individual may prompt sympathy for a one-off assisted death, but compassion for our wider society should make us wary about the unintended harms of legalisation".