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How Hancock gets it so badly wrong over assisted suicide

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WEEKS before he was caught snogging his girlfriend at work and sacked for breaching social distancing regulations, Matt Hancock was coming out of the closet as a supporter of assisted suicide.

His epiphany might not have shocked those of us who noted how, on his watch, instead of being treated in hospitals, thousands of Covid elderly were returned to care homes and other community settings in the early months of the pandemic to infect others and to be fed Midazolam, a powerful sedative used in end-of-life care.

This is not to suggest that one of the biggest scandals of the pandemic arose from Mr Hancock’s personal sympathies in the debate on assisted suicide.

According to reports, these began to emerge publicly after the dreadful care afforded to Sir Paul Cosford, the former medical director of Public Health England, by the NHS as he died from cancer.

It made Mr Hancock sympathetic to a ‘public debate’ on changing the law on assisted suicide and euthanasia (aka ‘assisted dying’) and this, he quite rightly said, had to be ‘informed by the best statistics’. 

So in April last year he demanded figures from the Office of National Statistics which might illustrate the scale of the problem of people with ‘life-limiting illnesses’ who chose to take their own lives.

It was bold of Mr Hancock to take such a step and to announce it first to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Choice at the End of Life because he was a serving secretary of state in a government which opposes euthanasia and assisted suicide.

For all of ten seconds he was the poster boy of Dignity in Dying, the death cult formerly known as the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, having effectively kicked off its latest campaign to remove the prohibitions against assisting in suicides which under British law can incur a jail sentence of up to 14 years. 

One can only presume that Mr Hancock was imbibing the narrative that violent, or non-assisted, suicides are ubiquitous among the sick and this is because of the absence of an assisted suicide law. A change, so it goes, would mean fewer people taking their own lives, and often horribly.

The Government, after all, is very keen on suicide prevention. Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has, for example, made the promotion or facilitating of suicide an extra-priority offence in the Online Safety Bill. Possibly, Mr Hancock saw no contradiction in aligning himself with the objectives of such campaigning MPs as Andrew Mitchell and Karin Smyth, who welcomed his intervention.

But to determine what might really happen to suicide rates in the UK if euthanasia and assisted suicide were to be introduced, it is surely necessary to look at other countries where such laws are already in place.

It has been recorded before in TCW  that assisted suicide and euthanasia do not reduce violent suicides but actually increase them, and last week the Journal of Ethics in Mental Health produced a study providing further evidence. 

The analysis, called ‘Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide and Suicide Rates in Europe’, found that the introduction of euthanasia and assisted suicide (EAS) invariably ‘is followed by considerable increases in suicide (inclusive of assisted suicide) and in intentional self-initiated death.’

It says: ‘There is no reduction in non-assisted suicide relative to the most similar non-EAS neighbour and, in some cases, there is a relative and/or an absolute increase in non-assisted suicide.

‘Furthermore, the data from Europe and from the US indicate that it is women who have most been placed at risk of avoidable premature death.’

The peer-reviewed study was carried out by Professor David Jones, director of the Anscombe Centre for Bioethics, an Oxford-based institute, who previously demonstrated, in a paper co-published with Professor David Paton of Nottingham University in 2015, that data from the US has similarly shown no reduction in non-assisted suicide in those states which permit assisted suicide.

Instead, the introduction of assisted suicide was associated with a significant increase in all types of suicides, with some evidence of increases in non-assisted suicides.

Yet campaigners in this country continue to spout the old and empty argument, based on a totally false premise, that because there may be a problem of suicide among older and severely ill people it must be because of the ban on assisted suicide – ergo, it would be alleviated if assisted suicide were permitted.

‘I agree strongly that there is a serious problem,’ Professor Jones told TCW. ‘I disagree strongly that “assisted dying” would be a solution. In my view, the key ethical issue with assisted suicide is that for some categories of people it normalises and thus encourages the decision to end one’s own life. This message is at variance with a key element of suicide prevention. If every suicide is a tragedy then every assisted suicide is also a tragedy, an avoidable premature death.

‘It may well be, as is sometimes reported, that someone might feel more secure having a lethal prescription available, in case they may want to use it.  It is also true that in Oregon or Switzerland a proportion have it but do not make use of it. However, on the whole, making lethal drugs more widely available makes life less secure and makes it more likely people will take their own lives. It is like people having guns or knives for their own protection. They may feel more secure but in fact their lives are less secure. They are more likely to die by violence.’

The central issue which is often overlooked in the media, and covered up by campaigners, is the fact that ‘assisted dying’ is not about improving the way people die. That is what palliative care exists to do.

Rather, assisted dying is a euphemism for assisted suicide and euthanasia. It is that simple. If it were not, it would not be illegal. Assisted dying, under the terms of various Bills thrown out by Parliament over the last two decades, is illegal because in law it is recognised as assisted suicide.

So the prohibition against promoting or assisting in suicides is what the Assisted Dying Bill from Baroness Meacher seeks to overturn. Their removal is precisely what Lord Forsyth is also demanding of the Government by his hijacking amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill which is due to be examined by the Lords from February 28.

Such changes will have many consequences but there is no evidence that they will help to prevent suicides. The evidence suggests instead that if assistance in suicide is promoted, more people will end their lives.

It is nonsensical for the Government to seek introduce tough new legislation aimed partly at curbing the promotion of suicide at the same time it appears to dither about whether to permit parliamentary time to such outrageous attempts to do precisely that.

If the Government is serious about reducing the suicide rates it must halt the progress of the Meacher Bill and the dangerously misguided hijacking amendments of the euthanasia lobby as a matter of urgency. Indeed, that’s what the ‘best statistics’ would suggest.

Updated at 7pm, 22nd February 2022

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Simon Caldwell
Simon Caldwell
Simon Caldwell is a former Daily Mail journalist who works as a freelance writer and public relations consultant, focusing on poor care and bad practice within the NHS.

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