Dawson was born in Croydon in 1864, the son of an architect, and graduated with a medical degree from the Royal London Hospital in 1893.
In 1907, Dawson joined the royal household as a physician-extraordinary to King Edward VII, an office he held until 1910 when he was promoted to a physician-in-ordinary under King George V.
With the outbreak of WWI, he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps with the rank of colonel and served on the Western Front until 1919, rising to the rank of Major-General.
On his return to civilian life, Dawson chaired the Consultative Council on Medical and Allied Services on the Future Provision of Medical and Allied Services. His report published in 1920 was extremely influential in the debate that ultimately led to the creation of the NHS in 1948.
1920 was a good year for Dawson as it was also when he was elevated to the peerage as Baron Dawson of Penn to add to his growing list of honours which included appearing on the cover of Time Magazine in 1930.
However, it was later that Dawson found his unusual claim to fame. He had resumed his role as physician-in-ordinary to King George V after the war and on the night of 20 January 1936 the monarch lay dying of bronchitis.
Dawson took the decision to hasten the king’s demise with an injection of morphine and cocaine. By Dawson’s own admission, the king had not asked for this so it was effectively involuntary euthanasia.
Bizarrely, Dawson’s main reason to apply euthanasia was to ensure that the king’s death was timed so that its announcement should appear first in the morning edition of The Times and not in some lesser publication later in the day. To be doubly sure of this, he asked his wife to phone the paper with an advance warning prior to the lethal injection.
Even more bizarrely, Dawson was an active opponent of euthanasia. In a debate in the House of Lords later the same year to legalise what we now might call ‘mercy killings’ he said that that euthanasia ‘belongs to the wisdom and conscience of the medical profession and not to the realm of law’. In other words, the doctor knows best!
Dawson died in 1945 but his ‘crime’ did not come to light until 1986 when his diaries were made public in which he openly admitted what he had done, described by one reviewer as an arrogant, convenience killing.
And if you are a fan of Homeland and Band of Brothers, you’ll be interested to know that Dawson is the great-grandfather of the actor, Damian Lewis.