UK: Lord Falconer’s careless euthanasia bill galvanises the country in opposition

Dignitate Humanae Institute
20 July 2014
Despite Lord Falconer’s assisted suicide bill formally progressing to its committee stage, the overwhelming multitude of reasons against the introduction of assisted dying into British law were laid bare in yesterday’s ten hour debate in the House of Lords.

This latest attempt to legalise assisted suicide, instigated by an unelected peer devoid of the wishes of the government, brought together an unlikely coalition of resistance from across the political spectrum. The Guardian editorial warned that “Reshaping the moral landscape is no alternative to cherishing life and the living” whilst the Telegraph asserted that “The more assisted dying is discussed, the more its risks will become apparent”.

The risks alluded to have indeed become more apparent in recent weeks, with Professor Theo Boer, formally a leading advocate of legalising euthanasia in the Netherlands, reversing his position. Citing the yearly increase of 15% in assisted deaths since 2008, Professor Boer warned that euthanasia was “on the way to becoming a default mode of dying for cancer patients.” Furthermore, whilst all euthanasia laws originally claim to be limited and restrictive, a pattern of incrementalism quickly emerges to the point where in Holland a woman going blind is reason enough for death or in Belgium where disabled children are considered not worthy of life.

This evident strategy of euthanasia supporters to fully legalise euthanasia through incremental steps was exposed in the debate by Lord Alton of Liverpool, recalling that in 2011 Lord Falconer had stopped short of advocating assisted dying for non-terminally ill disabled people ‘at this point in time’ to which Lord Alton posed the question “At what point in time will it be right to offer to end the lives of people with disabilities? How long will it be before it becomes expected?”

This was not the only discrepancy found in the motives of Lord Falconer and advocates of assisted suicide. Before the debate, the tragic case of Tony Nicklinson, who suffered from ‘locked-in syndrome’ and wanted to die, was used as the primary motivation for bringing the case for assisted suicide before Parliament. Yet under Lord Falconer’s own bill, Mr Nicklinson would never have been eligible, as he was not terminally ill and lacked the ability to self-administer a lethal dose.

The case against assisted-suicide from a healthcare perspective was put forward by Lord Ribeiro, a retired surgeon, who cited the opposition to legalisation from the Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the British Medical Association: “Assisted Dying Bill would fundamentally alter the role of the doctor-patient relationship. Doctors should preserve and improve life. If they are also involved in taking life, a damaging conflict of interest will occur, which patients will not understand….there is a danger that a right to die may become a responsibility to die, making vulnerable people more vulnerable.”

The inevitable consequence of patients feeling as a burden upon their families and the health system has been evident from the findings of Washington State; where 61% of those who have received lethal drugs cited the fear of being a burden upon others as their reason for seeking death. This concern was reiterated by the Secretary of State for Health, the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt, who stated in a letter to a constituent “I am concerned it devalues the life of people with permanent disabilities and could inadvertently put pressure on people who worry they are a ‘burden’ to their families.” In addition to the Health Secretary, the Prime Minister has also expressed his own concerns that any legalisation might lead to “[people being] pushed into things that they don’t actually want for themselves.” It is now considered highly unlikely that Lord Falconer’s bill will receive the time or support needed in the lower chamber to pass the bill into law.

Following the debate, Luca Volontè, chairman of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute stated:

“Supporters of euthanasia often imply they have the monopoly on compassion, yet the true meaning of the Latin word ‘compassio’ means to ‘suffer with’ not to ‘end out of pity’. This is clearly the understanding of the health sector in the UK, who have overwhelmingly rejected this push towards assisted suicide, something in which, as healthcare practitioners, they would be forced to be complicit.

The Dignitatis Humanae Institute affirms to holding as sacred both the dignity of each individual person and the gift of human life, the irreversible consequence of this bill would be to place a valuation on the worthiness of each life according to physical and mental ideals; under such a regime, the old, the ill, the disabled and the most vulnerable will suffer the most.”

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