LAST month in the Times Lord Finkelstein, a well-known advocate for assisted suicide and euthanasia, fired the starting pistol in the latest round of the campaign to allow doctors to help to kill their patients.
In other newspapers, the timing of the campaign was justified due to the presence of Covid-19 in the UK and the anxiety and fear this has caused.
These siren voices claim that it is possible safely to remove long-held universal protections for vulnerable people. They point to the handful of states in the US and in a tiny number of places around the world that have gone down this dangerous path. The reality is, however, dark and disturbing, because there is no safe system of assisted suicide or euthanasia anywhere in the world. In practice, this will result in discrimination in healthcare against the terminally ill (or those perceived to be terminally ill) and the disabled.
In Oregon and Washington, the models put forward by campaigners, a majority of those opting to end their lives cite fear of being a burden, and others talk about financial concerns, while the list of conditions that qualify for the lethal cocktail of barbiturates continues to grow. At the same time, experts have warned that allowing assisted suicide might be normalising suicide in the general population. Suicide rates are a third higher in Oregon than the US national average. Put another way, more than six times as many people die by suicide in Oregon annually than by homicide.
It’s not rosy in the Netherlands or Belgium either. Laws supposedly limited to mentally competent terminally ill adults, have been extended to include non-mentally competent adults and children, profoundly disabled people, even those with psychiatric problems such as depression and anorexia.
Earlier this year we saw the acquittal of Dutch medic Marinou Arends, who euthanised a 74-year-old dementia patient who said ‘No’ on three separate occasions when asked if she wanted to die. In a recent interview, far from showing contrition, the doctor urged other clinicians to ‘just do it’, and shockingly the Supreme Court of the Netherlands has ruled that such deaths are permissible under Dutch law.
In Canada, a court struck down the requirement that a person be terminally ill to qualify for euthanasia. This followed the case of Alan Nichols, a former school caretaker who was physically healthy but struggled with depression. His life was ended by lethal injection in July 2019. In another case, Roger Foley was repeatedly offered the drugs to kill himself while being denied the social care to live a dignified life due to the cost.
Those who mendaciously claim money is never a consideration need look no further than a recent report in the Journal of Clinical Ethics which said the NHS would save money and increase the number of organs available for donation if assisted suicide or euthanasia were introduced.
This complicated and controversial issue has been reviewed more than 30 times since 2003 by MPs, MSPs, peers and judges. Every time those looking at the legislation have rejected ripping up the long-held universal protections that prevent the terminally ill and disabled from being treated differently, and would put pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives.
This is why as a society we must collectively reject attempts to try and subvert and exploit this awful pandemic that has already claimed more than 44,000 lives, a disproportionate number of whom were elderly or from the BAME community, and reject any attempt to change the law. The concern over deaths from Covid-19 in care homes has shown that the British public still think that we should provide proper health care for those who are elderly or disabled, rather than allowing the medical profession to succumb to the temptation of the ‘quick’ and ‘cheaper’ option of assisting the deaths of patients. What sort of society would that lead to? We only need to look across the North Sea to the Netherlands and Belgium to see, and the picture there is not appealing.