Easing agonising deaths of terminally ill babies "tantamount to euthanasia"

A doctor in Scotland who gave a paralysing drug to two terminally ill babies, has told a General Medical Council (GMC) panel he felt the children were suffering.

Consultant neonatologist Michael Munro, 41, injected the two children at Aberdeen Maternity Hospital after they suffered violent body spasms and has been accused of an act "tantamount to euthanasia".

Dr. Munro has denied his conduct was below standard, dishonest or inappropriate and the says the body spasms were "horrendous" for the relatives to witness.

The inquiry has heard the doctor's administration of drugs in 2005 hastened the deaths of two terminally ill babies when he gave 23 times the normal dose of a muscle relaxant.

Distressed parents crying that they could take no more prompted his actions and he took the decision then to administer the drug Pancuronium.

However experts say when babies become weak with treatment withdrawal they can struggle to breathe, a condition known as agonal gasping and Dr Munro's colleagues raised doubts about the treatment and an investigation was launched into the doctor's actions.

Dr. Munro says the parents were utterly distraught because they had already said their last goodbyes to their babies before the massive, racking agonal gasps; following discussion with the family, a nurse brought the muscle relaxant.

Dr. Munro says he made the decision to use Pancuronium after reading an article in a medical journal and felt the drug appeared ethical and acceptable to be used in this situation.

He explained to the parents that this drug was to be used to ease the suffering but that one of the consequences of its use may be to hasten death and they were happy with that.

When he was questioned about his failure to record the drug's use in the medical notes, Dr. Munro denied he had attempted to hide his actions but conceded his note-taking had been inadequate.

The process was repeated seven months later with another terminally ill premature baby.

Both children had suffered complications during pregnancy, with one baby suffering a serious brain haemorrhage and the other born with pulmonary hypoplasia and pulmonary hypotension.

Experts say discussion with another senior doctor should have been taken place and though Dr. Munro acted from the "highest personal motives", the use of the drug could not be justified.

Andrew Long, representing the GMC, underlined that neither of the children's parents were unhappy with the doctor's treatment of their babies.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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