Coroner’s ruling ‘may affect pain relief for dying’
A healthtrust’s barrister has warned that a ruling by Northern Ireland’s top coroner may inhibit doctors from using morphine to relieve the pain of dying patients.
The South Eastern Trust said it may bring a legal challenge against the findings of John Leckey, who said morphine intoxicity was a factor in the 2007 death of 56-year-old Anne Aitchison, who had terminal lung disease.
A spokeswoman said: “The trust is considering the coroner's formulation as to the cause of death and will be considering whether or not to challenge these findings.”
Barrister Gerry McAlinden told Belfast Coroner’s Court this week that including morphine intoxicity as a cause of death would be “an unfair outcome” for the medical team who cared for Mrs Aitchison, who died in September 2007, six hours after being connected to a morphine pump.
There was no explanation for abnormally high levels of morphine in a blood sample taken after the Ballywalter woman died, nor was there evidence of human intervention.
Mr McAlinden said the 36mg of morphine given to Mrs Aitchison would be considered normal for a dying person. “The effect of this finding could be a knee-jerk reaction that terminally ill patients in palliative care would not be receiving appropriate and necessary pain alleviating medicine out of fear that they may be subsequently implicated in the cause of death. It has a significant impact on this case and in the care of other dying patients.”
But Mr Leckey said he could not ignore medical evidence which found that an inexplicably high level of morphine in a blood sample taken from Ms Aitchison was the cause of death — even though other experts disagreed.
Mr Leckey said the issue should be brought to the attention of the Chief Medical Officer as soon as possible.