A former medical director of Public Health England has backed assisted dying in the UK after developing incurable lung cancer, describing the current law as “inhumane”.
Professor Paul Cosford said he “never wanted to be a supporter of changing the law in favour of assisted dying,” but called on the Government to understand why “rational, law abiding people sometimes feel compelled to travel to Switzerland”.
In an article for the British Medical Journal, Prof Cosford described the current law as “inhumane” and asked why “why their loved ones are sometimes prosecuted” for helping their relatives die.
The former medical chief is dying of lung cancer, and says his diagnosis has changed his view on the debate.
“I know that the incurable lung cancer, diagnosed three years ago, will end my life before many more years pass,” he said.
“But I don’t rail against the world as I sit on the bench. I’ve seen enough people die younger and in worse circumstances for that.”
Prof Cosford said he may eventually be on a morphine drip eventually, and the “idea of having an extra vial in the fridge for me to use if I need it is appealing”.
“But I know it cannot be prescribed legally for this purpose so is not really an option.
“Despite helpful conversations with excellent palliative care specialists, this final element of choice and self-determination seems to evade me.”
In his role as emeritus medical director, Prof Cosford advised the chief executive of PHE, who recently stepped down when the Government announced it would be abolishing the body.
He worked at Public Health England since its establishment in 2012 and advised the Government on the 2014 Ebola outbreak and 2018 Salisbury poisonings, before stepping down on receiving his cancer diagnosis.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic Prof Cosford has represented Public Health England in the media, but was advised to shield while transmission in the UK was high.
His intervention in the assisted dying debate comes after some MPs suggested the law could be changed for the first time.
In August Andrew Mitchell, a former Tory Cabinet minister, predicted Parliament would vote to legalise assisted dying within four years.
Mr Mitchell is the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on choice at the end of life, and said MPs were coming around to the view that some restricted form of assisted dying should be allowed.