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UK Doctor Cleared Over Pro-Life Opinion

by | Tue, Feb 20 2024

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The UK’s General Medical Council (GMC) has cleared a neurologist who is also an ordained Catholic priest, of any wrong-doing following a three-year investigation into a pro-life medical opinion he gave to a court in an end-of-life legal case. Dr. Patrick Pullicino faced being banned from medical practice.

The 74-year-year-old with a medical career spanning half a century had never previously faced a “fitness to practice” investigation. He is best known as one of the few doctors who first raised the alarm in 2012 over the abuses carried out under the Liverpool Care Pathway, a method of looking after terminally ill patients that was used in hospitals across the UK. His whistleblowing led to the end-of-life code being rescinded two years later.

More recently in 2020, Dr. Pullicino gave an emergency expert opinion on a dying patient whose family wanted him repatriated to Poland, but the UK’s Court of Protection ordered the removal of his feeding tube and fluids and refused the patient’s repatriation.

In a desperate bid to prolong his life, the patient’s family called Dr. Pullicino to give his expert medical opinion on Christmas Day.  The doctor’s view was that further observations and tests were necessary for a confident prognosis of the patient’s immediate life expectancy. A Polish neurosurgeon agreed. However, the High Court judge rejected their opinions and strongly criticised Dr. Pullicino according to his lawyers from Christian Concern. The patient died from dehydration after his tube and fluids were removed soon after.

But the neurologist’s battle was just starting. Celia Kitzinger, a pro-euthanasia professor of gender and sexuality at the University of York, had been following the case and court proceedings. She accused Dr. Pullicino of bias for “trying to save a patient’s life” and speculated that he “may have deliberately misdiagnosed the patient in the hope of saving his life.”

She lodged a formal written complaint with the GMC, accusing the doctor of bias because he was a Catholic and had expressed “pro-life values” in the courtroom. The GMC opened an official investigation based solely on the professor’s complaint, causing the doctor’s revalidation to be put on hold.

It took three years for the GMC to finally conclude that: “We have no evidence to suggest that he [Dr. Pullicino] lacks competence to assess a patient’s level of consciousness or to support an allegation that [his medical opinion] was inaccurate and/or affected by his religious faith or personal belief.”

An expert consultant neurologist also testified that: “A doctor faced with an urgent request to halt the withdrawal of life-preserving treatment would regard his possible intervention as essential as soon as possible,” according to Christian Concern.

In response to the decision, Dr. Pullicino stated: “I am relieved and pleased that the GMC has refused to take any further action against me. In an emergency situation, I was ambushed in the courtroom and then targeted by a militant Right to Die campaigner with an agenda to attack, discredit, and caricature my medical opinion.”

“From the beginning, it was a clear discriminatory attack on the medical opinion I gave because I am a Catholic Priest and believe medical professionals should do everything possible to save another human’s life. The GMC should never have allowed an investigation to proceed. I am concerned that it has taken so long for me to be vindicated and cleared.” Dr. Pullicino concluded.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, noted the irony of a doctor being under investigation for trying to save a life, saying: “In a world where truth is becoming stranger than fiction, we are now seeing doctors who work to save lives becoming the ones investigated by the GMC. This tells us something about the culture of the GMC. We are delighted that Dr. Pullicino has been cleared, but it is deeply disturbing that this case got this far.”

“The case highlights the growing pressure on medical professionals not to break ranks with their colleagues who had taken a controversial decision to end a patient’s life. In sensitive end-of-life cases, dissenting medical experts risk severe criticism by courts and activists, leading to protracted and stressful investigations by professional regulators,” Ms. Williams added.

Photo: Christian Concern