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Assisted Dying

In our July issue of image news we reported that Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill would receive its second reading in the House of Lords on 18th July.3

In line with a statement from key Peers in The Times4 on Tuesday 15 July, those who opposed the principle of the Bill chose not to force a vote at the debate's conclusion.

The convention in the House of Lords is that a Private Member's Bill is granted an unopposed second reading. That the House didn't divide at the end of the second reading debate does not mean the Bill has the support of the House.  Care not Killing reports,  “The depth and strength of opposition is clear in the broad range of eminent speakers from a wealth of angles - law, medicine, ethics and disability - who deeply oppose the Bill but wish to respect the convention of the House.”5

The Bill now goes to committee, although Care Not Killing report that the Bill will not get to that stage until October or November.  Committee stage involves detailed line by line examination of the separate parts (clauses and schedules) of the Bill.

Lord Carey volte-face

Prior to the second reading Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury caused a surprise when he announced via the Daily Mail6 that he had changed his mind after witnessing the suffering of campaigners like Tony Nicklinson, who suffered for years from locked-in syndrome.  He stated, “There is nothing anti-Christian about embracing the reforms that Lord Falconer’s Bill offers. After all, church leaders already understand that the use of pain medication such as morphine may occasionally have the effect of hastening death. Why not extend this understanding further, so that the dying have a choice over how and when they wish their lives to end?”

Counsel of despair

Peter Saunders, Christian Medical Fellowship, points out that, although Lord Carey cites pain as the main driver for a change in the law, “in Oregon, which legalised ‘assisted dying’ in 1997, fewer than three in ten people making use of the law cite inadequate pain control or (even) concern about it as a reason for wanting to end their lives. The top reasons in Oregon relate to loss of meaning and purpose: loss of autonomy (93%), having less ability to engage in activities making life enjoyable (89%), loss of dignity (73%) and feeling they are a burden on family, friends and caregivers (49%).”

He also says that there is no discernible Christian world view underpinning what Lord Carey says. “Carey has … produced a piece that is high on emotion but weak on argument that capitulates to the spirit of the age; that enthrones personal autonomy above public safety…… Carey’s case for legalising assisted suicide is a counsel of despair devoid of Christian faith and hope.”7

Slippery slope

Writing in the Guardian, Andrew Brown points out, “It is very notable that Falconer's bill will not address any of the most emotional cases. Tony Nicklinson would not have been helped at all by it, since no doctor could have predicted when he would die. By pretending this is only about terminal illness and that these cases can clearly be distinguished from all others, the supporters of the bill are deceiving themselves.”

He goes on to say, “A central objection – which seems to me completely inarguable – is that this really is an extremely slippery slope. Once the principle of autonomy has been conceded as a moral one, it becomes immoral to interfere with it. There is no line to be drawn. Once we concede the principle that it is up to the patient to determine whether his life is worth living, and that the doctor's duty is to facilitate this wish, no amount of safeguards in law will matter. The patient's right to choose will become an absolute, just as the woman's right to choose has done. And that will put huge pressure on doctors to act against their own consciences, just as abortion does.”8

Sword of Damocles

The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rev Justin Welby, spoke out against legalisation. He said, “Abuse, coercion and intimidation can be slow instruments in the hands of the unscrupulous, creating pressure on vulnerable people who are encouraged to ‘do the decent thing.’ Even where such pressure is not overt, the very presence of a law that permits assisted suicide on the terms proposed by Lord Falconer is bound to lead to sensitive individuals feeling that they ought to stop ‘being a burden to others’.  What sort of society would we be creating if we were to allow this sword of Damocles to hang over the head of every vulnerable, terminally-ill person in the country?”9

Dutch ethicist – “We were wrong”

Dutch Ethicist, Professor Theo Boer, has joined the debate saying, “Assisted Suicide: Don’t Go There.”10  He had written in 2007 concerning assisted dying in Holland, “There doesn’t need to be a slippery slope when it comes to euthanasia. A good euthanasia law, in combination with the euthanasia review procedure, provides the warrants for a stable and relatively low number of euthanasia.”  He says, “Most of my colleagues drew the same conclusion.”  He now says, “But we were wrong - terribly wrong, in fact.” He expects over 6000 assisted deaths this year.

Professor Boer states, “ Euthanasia is on the way to become a ‘default’ mode of dying for cancer patients.”  He goes on to say, “Other developments include a shift in the type of patients who receive these treatments. Whereas in the first years after 2002 hardly any patients with psychiatric illnesses or dementia appear in reports, these numbers are now sharply on the rise. Cases have been reported in which a large part of the suffering of those given euthanasia or assisted suicide consisted in being aged, lonely or bereaved. Some of these patients could have lived for years or decades. Whereas the law sees assisted suicide and euthanasia as an exception, public opinion is shifting towards considering them rights, with corresponding duties on doctors to act.”

Professor Boer asks whether the mere existence of an assisted dying law is an invitation to see assisted suicide and euthanasia as a normality instead of a last resort and urges, “Don’t go there. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it is not likely to ever go back in again.”

See also:

Physician-assisted Suicide: Some Reasons for Rejecting Lord Falconer’s Bill by Professor John Keown.

Don’t make Oregon’s mistake and legalise assisted suicide – ten reasons why the UK should not follow suit.

3 http://www.imagenet.org.uk/1407in1.html

4 http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/letters/article4147248.ece (subscription needed to view)

5 http://www.carenotkilling.org.uk/qas/falconer-bill-where-we-are-now/

6 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2689295/Carey-Ive-changed-mind-right-die-On-eve-Lords-debate-ex-Archbishop-dramatically-backs-assisted-death-law.html

7 http://pjsaunders.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/why-lord-carey-is-so-desperately-wrong.html

8 http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/14/lord-carey-assisted-dying-nixon-china#start-of-comments

9 http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/faith/article4145557.ece (subscription needed to view)

10 http://alexschadenberg.blogspot.ca/2014/07/dutch-ethicist-assisted-suicide-dont-go.html



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