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Peter Brand, doctor and Isle of Wight MP whose candour in a euthanasia debate led to a police investigation – obituary

Dr Peter Brand, Liberal Democrat MP for the Isle of Wight, 1997
Dr Peter Brand, Liberal Democrat MP for the Isle of Wight, 1997: in the House he mainly raised health-connected issues, such as 'postcode lotteries' in treatment, and the need for tighter regulation of slimming clinics and cosmetic surgery - Solent News & Photo Agency

Peter Brand, who has died aged 76, was a popular Isle of Wight GP who from 1997 to 2001 represented the county in the Commons as a Liberal Democrat. Dutch-born and the son of a shipwright, he was a keen yachtsman and as an MP lived on his own boat on the Thames.

The Isle of Wight – Britain’s largest constituency with more than 100,000 electors – had been Liberal between 1974 and 1987, when it was captured by the Conservative Barry Field. Brand reduced Field’s majority by 5,000 in 1992, and five years later defeated a new Tory candidate, Andrew Turner, by 6,406 votes.

The Westminster analyst Andrew Roth applauded Brand for having persevered despite a “disloyal, fratricidal and insane” local party. He could not repeat his success in 2001, losing to Turner by 2,826 votes. Since then, Lib Dem support on the island has collapsed; in 2019 they did not field a candidate.

Intelligent and witty, Brand possessed a candour that in 2000 led to Hampshire Police briefly investigating him for an alleged murder. During a debate on a Conservative MP’s Bill to tighten the law on euthanasia, he told the House that, had the measure been in force when he qualified in 1971, he would himself be a “multi-murderer”.

He went on to recall how, as a senior paediatric houseman in 1973, he had withdrawn treatment from a “very brave” two-year-old boy with leukaemia at the parents’ request. The child was receiving unpleasant treatment, and it was unclear whether any further medical help would have been successful.

Dr Peter Brand
Dr Peter Brand - UPP

“One afternoon, during yet another flare-up, the parents said that neither they nor the child could cope with it any more. They asked for all the tubes to be taken away and to be allowed to sit with him. They did, and he died 48 hours later.

“That was a profound experience. Clearly, I did not withdraw the treatment with the purpose of killing that child, but to prevent further distress to that child and his family. I allowed a death to occur, and that removed distress. The purpose of my action was, therefore, to promote death or at least to enable death to occur.”

Brand’s frankness impressed fellow MPs, but a woman in Weybridge, concerned at doctors “playing God”, called the police. Brand said he would be happy to co-operate in their investigation, and he was cleared of any wrongdoing as soon as officers checked the transcript of Hansard.

Peter Brand was born on May 16 1947 at Zaandam to Louis Brand and the former Ans Fredericks, a teacher. The family moved to Gloucestershire – though Peter remained fluent in Dutch – and he attended Thornbury Grammar School, becoming school captain.

He trained at Birmingham University Medical School, and having started in paediatrics went into general practice on the island in 1977, covering the communities of Brading and Lake. He chaired the Isle of Wight division of the BMA from 1980 to 1984, and lectured medical students in Southampton.

Brand was elected to the Isle of Wight Council in 1984 as an independent, and the following year joined the Liberals. He campaigned against the dumping of sewage off the island’s coast, and from 1989 to 1993 was the council’s deputy leader.

After his first attempt to enter the Commons, Brand chaired the Lib Dems’ health policy and community care working groups, formulating policy for the next election. At their 1996 party conference he warned against the NHS over-concentrating on acute care.

Dr Peter Brand
Dr Peter Brand's principal success in politics was in preventing water companies having the power to cut off non-payers at short notice - Heath brett

Elected in 1997 as Conservative support nationally went into meltdown, Brand was put on the Health Select Committee. In the House he mainly raised health-connected issues: “postcode lotteries” in treatment, and the need for better out-of-hours treatment and tighter regulation of slimming clinics and cosmetic surgery. He told that year’s party conference that, given modern methods of conception, the NHS should change its slogan from “from the womb to the tomb” to “from the sperm to the worm”.

His principal success was in preventing water companies having the power to cut off non-payers at short notice, citing the need for clean water for public health. As water meters were being introduced on the island, this was an emotive constituency issue.

Brand also pressed for a more sympathetic legislative climate toward gay men and lesbians, and compensation for former prisoners of war.

Losing his seat in 2001 – one of only two Lib Dem MPs to be defeated – Brand returned full-time to his practice, retiring in 2006. Thereafter he concentrated on restoring old houses, sailing and singing with the Ryde Chorus.

Peter Brand married in 1972 Jane Attlee, also a GP and great niece of the Labour prime minister Clement Attlee. She survives him, with their two sons.

Peter Brand, born May 16 1947, died September 22 2023

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