I speeded up deaths of terminally ill patients
GP cleared of murder says he acted out of 'Christian compassion'
Published 19/06/2010 | 05:00
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 scores of others in his care.
Dr Howard Martin, once feared to be a "second Harold Shipman", said last night that he gave fatal doses of painkillers to elderly and terminally ill patients.
But he insisted he only acted out of "Christian compassion" and was merely trying to limit their suffering rather than "playing God".
Dr Martin (75) spoke out as the General Medical Council (GMC), 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 puts him at risk of "spending the rest of my life in prison" if it prompts police to re-open his case.
But Dr Martin said he decided to speak out in order to call for a reform of a system of care in Britain that 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."
Dr Martin, a one-time army medic and police surgeon, was arrested in May 2004 at his practice in Newton Aycliffe, Co Durham, one of his three surgeries. Relatives of an elderly cancer sufferer raised concerns with police after his death, and an autopsy showed high levels of diamorphine in his system.
Dr Martin was suspended by the GMC and after exhuming more bodies he was charged with murdering three former patients. Shipman, Britain's most prolific serial killer with an estimated 258 victims, had once worked briefly as a locum at Dr Martin's practice.
Dr Martin stood trial at Teeside Crown Court but was found not guilty by unanimous verdict of killing Frank Moss (59), Stanley Weldon and Harry Gittins, both 74.
A disciplinary hearing that started in May and finished yesterday heard that Dr Martin was "arrogant and single-minded" as well as "reckless", and concluded that the injections administered to 18 patients "hastened their death, thereby removing their fundamental right to life".
But from his bungalow on the North Wales coast, Dr Martin acknowledged for the first time that he hastened the final moments of some of his patients and in two cases did so without the permission of those who were about to 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.
The GP disclosed that one of those to whom he administered a final injection was his own son, Paul (31), when he was dying from cancer in May 1988.
"What more could I do for him other than make sure he had dignity?" he asked.
Dr Martin believes about half of all doctors give injections to those who are about to die, and says he feels 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 GMC throwing a veil of secrecy over its proceedings, all 18 of those whose deaths were investigated over a 10-year period by lawyers and leading medical experts have been identified.
In some cases their relatives lend Dr Martin their full support, with one describing him as "an angel of mercy". In others, the bereaved insist that their loved ones were victims of a doctor who wilfully and "arrogantly" betrayed their trust. (© Daily Telegraph, London)