A DOCTOR who advised a man whose suicide is shown on television tonight has said what he does is an act of compassion.

Retired GP Michael Irwin, from Hove, has no regrets over giving advice and accompanying people abroad when they decide to attend a suicide clinic.

And Dr Irwin said his support of assisted suicide was not at odds with his career as a GP.

He said: “The main responsibility of a good, compassionate doctor is always to do what is best for her or his patient - which can include helping that person to die if that individual is mentally competent and is suffering unbearably from an incurable illness.”

Dr Irwin said university surveys carried out in 2004 and 2007 revealed about 1,000 deaths due to voluntary euthanasia were carried out unofficially every year in the UK.

Dr Irwin said he hoped a documentary being screened tonight would reignite the debate about changing the law to allow the terminally ill to die in the UK instead of travelling abroad.

The BBC2 programme, How to Die: Simon's Choice, features the final moments of assisted suicide campaigner Simon Binner, from Surrey.

Mr Binner, who had aggressive motor neurone disease, ended his life at the Eternal Spirit centre in Switzerland in October after announcing his suicide plan on professional networking site LinkedIn.

Dr Irwin had been contacted by Mr Binner in March for information about the Swiss clinics.

Mr Binner and his wife Debbie were in contact every few weeks until the couple left in October.

Since 2005, Dr Irwin has accompanied four Britons to Switzerland to witness their doctor-assisted suicides.

He believes he has given advice, ranging from just a single phone call to meeting someone, to at least 150 individuals, although most have not gone on to take the final step.

Dr Irwin said: “This documentary will definitely stimulate further discussion in the UK about the need to change UK law to allow for doctor-assisted suicide, both for terminally-ill adults and for those who are increasingly suffering from a progressive illness.

“Unfortunately, the vote on the Assisted Dying Bill in the House of Commons last September (when only 118 MPs supported a change) means that there will be no further debate on this subject in the present parliament.

“However public support for a change in the law stands at 75 per cent.”

Dr Irwin, 84, who has said he is prepared to take his own life when the time comes, has been nicknamed Dr Death because of his outspoken views on the right to die.

The argument against assisted suicide has been led by faith groups, who say it would have a serious impact on the most vulnerable.

They fear a change in the law would lead to people feeling pressured to end their lives early or would put pressure on themselves to take their own life before they need to.

They also believe the practice cannot be justified due to their religious beliefs.

There is also the  ‘slippery slope’ argument, which is based on the concern that legalising euthanasia could lead to significant unintended changes in the healthcare system and society at large that people would later come to regret

Other opponents have suggested that asking doctors, nurses or any other healthcare professional to carry out euthanasia or assist in a suicide would be a violation of fundamental medical ethics

Those against assisted suicide also argue there is no reason for a person to suffer either mentally or physically because effective end of life treatments are available, particularly with specialised hospice care.

  • How to Die: Simon’s Choice, is on BBC2 tonight at 9pm.