GP Dr Iain Kerr has spoken openly for the first time about how he supplied an elderly couple with sleeping tablets so they could kill themselves at the same time.
He also admitted telling another pensioner how many antidepressants he needed to swallow to end his life and visiting the patient while the overdose took effect.
Dr Kerr, who worked in Williamwood Medical Centre in Clarkston, East Renfrewshire, before he retired in 2011, has decided to discuss the cases in a bid to inform the debate about assisted suicide.
He wants voters to consider their position on the issue as MSP Margo MacDonald prepares to bring a new bill to the Scottish Parliament which would legalise the practice.
The 66-year-old GP has already been before a General Medical Council (GMC) hearing, after admitting prescribing sleeping tablets for a patient who wished to have a means of suicide at her disposal – although she ultimately threw the drugs away.
Dr Kerr has in the past been interviewed by the procurator-fiscal about the deaths of the other patients, but has not discussed the details in public before.
Describing the individual circumstances in each case, he said: "On the occasions on which I took these actions I was convinced that they were in the best interests of the patient."
He described how the couple, in their eighties, both struggled to get out of their own home because of very different medical problems and approached him for a means to end their lives.
Dr Kerr said: "They asked for something that they could take in an overdose which would lead to their suicide. I said that I wanted them to tell their daughter what was going on and if she had no strenuous objections then I would give them the prescription which in fact I did."
He also recalled another pensioner, who was suffering from chronic respiratory problems and poor bladder control, asking him about the number of antidepressants he would need to swallow to end his life. The man was probably in his late sixties.
After consulting a senior colleague, Dr Kerr arranged some medical checks, then gave the man the information he needed. Dr Kerr said: "He took the overdose and I went in to see him. He was still alive and I phoned his sister to tell her what had happened and to say that I was not planning to send him to hospital, and she was OK with that."
According to the GP, the man remained alive for two or three days, during which he visited him to ensure he was not suffering. He recalled being interviewed by the procurator-fiscal about the case and asked if he was in the man's will. Dr Kerr said he replied: "I hope not." The GP maintains he has not benefitted financially from any of the deaths.
He believes those who feel life is intolerable because of health problems should be able to choose to die.
Dr Kerr said: "I think there should be a change in the law because my personal experience is that there are situations where people suffer distressing symptoms at the end of life which cannot all be palliated, and while people should be offered all the available palliative treatments there may be times when their preferred course of action will be suicide or to be assisted to die."
Acting in a way he believed was ethical but potentially illegal has put strain on his professional and private life. Dr Kerr said he is sorry about the impact the GMC hearing and his ultimate suspension from the medical register for six months had upon his family. Many of his patients expressed support for him and welcomed him back.
Dr Kerr said: "I do not regret what I did in terms of the correctness of the activity but I do regret the repercussions which had adverse effects on my family and my practice."
Dr Kerr said the woman at the centre of the GMC hearing, known as Patient A, was a "very independent capable woman just thinking that there might come a stage where she did not want to continue living".
He said she felt having the prescription would give her peace of mind. The incident was flagged up to the GMC after Dr Kerr referred to it during an appraisal.
On the GMC hearing, Dr Kerr said: "I do not honestly know I felt it terribly stressful because I did not feel I had done anything wrong. I suppose the thing is that having your integrity doubted is difficult to cope with, having done something which you feel is morally acceptable but which other people feel is not morally acceptable."
Profile: Dr Iain Kerr
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