Britain's euthanasia bill faces mounting opposition

Britain's euthanasia bill faces mounting opposition

A British hereditary peer, Lord Falconer, has introduced legislation in the House of Lords to allow people in the last six months of life to kill themselves with a lethal dose of drugs prepared by a medical practitionner. The legislation has provoked fierce controversy in Britain, and a long debate in parliament.

This analysis was prepared by the Dignitatis Humanae Institute in mid-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 without the support of the government, brought together an unlikely coalition of resistance from across the political spectrum.

The Guardian editorial warned: "Reshaping the moral landscape is no alternative to cherishing life and the living", while the Telegraph asserted: "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, while 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 it 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: "[The] 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."

A powerful intervention in the debate came from Baroness Campbell, who was born with severe spinal muscular atrophy. Speaking with the assistance of a ventilator, she said that in moments of despair, she might be tempted to ask for assisted dying, and if the law changed, doctors would not stop her.

She told peers: "It frightens me because in periods of greatest difficulty I know I might be tempted to use it. It only adds to the burdens and challenges life holds for me."

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.

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