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Laura Keynes: Now euthanasia is a feminist issue. Toynbee and Co revert to fatuous ‘my body, my choice logic’

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If there’s a prize to be handed out for scariest comment piece in favour of the Falconer Bill, it should go jointly to Polly Toynbee in The Guardian and Melanie Reid in The Times.

I say scary because while the Falconer Bill pushes for physician-assisted killing only where mental competency and a prognosis of six months exist, Toynbee and Reid argue for killing dementia patients, where there’s neither mental competency or accurate estimations of life expectancy.

“Well, why not?” asks Toynbee, reflecting on the argument “that the frail will be intimidated into hastening the end of their lives so as not to be a burden on their children.” She writes: “I would not choose to put unbearable caring duties on my four children.” Likewise Melanie Reid: “Supply us with pills before we lose our marbles, allow us to pass on to our children the money that would otherwise be wasted in care homes”.

What leads them to this chilling position? Feminism, apparently. Physician-assisted killing is, they argue, an extension of the right “to decide what happens to my body” (Reid). “For the generation that won on abortion, contraception and gay liberation, the principle was always the right to do what you like with your own body” (Toynbee).

Melanie Reid in particular is angry that a “minority of older, religious men” continue to deny women their rights, because the House of Lords deciding the Bill is apparently “dominated by that demographic.” Yet by 5pm on Friday the debate was split, with 45 speeches for and 45 against the Bill, many delivered by impassioned female speakers. That’s because there are actually only 26 seats for bishops, out of nearly 800 seats in the House of Lords.

Whilst Reid objects to discrimination against women, she doesn’t seem to mind discriminating against members of the House of Lords who are older, religious, or male. The thrust of her argument is that being an older religious man should disqualify you from having a say on the Falconer Bill: “Nobody, but nobody, tells a woman what she can and can’t do with her body anymore.”

Since dying is something that affects men and women equally, the absurdity of Reid’s argument is obvious. As is the absurdity of her statement ‘nobody tells a woman what to do’, because the law has always told us – men and women – what we can and can’t do, and for good reason. A woman can’t, for example, demand an abortion after the 24th week because that’s when the foetus is viable outside the womb.

Good law aims to safeguard the most vulnerable. The question is whether the Falconer Bill makes good law. The people deciding this in the House of Lords have only one criteria: public safety. It doesn’t matter if they’re older, religious, or male. What matters is that they think deeply and sensibly, and make wise decisions in favour of public safety. It isn’t paternalism if they decide the law is safer as it stands; it’s erring on the side of caution.

The law as it stands allows prosecutors to decide on a case by case basis whether to proceed to court, and in reality prosecutions are rare. But the safeguard is there. ‘My body, my choice’ rhetoric leads inevitably to perversion of the law, putting the most vulnerable at risk, as Ann Furedi, director of abortion provider Bpas, recently admitted over the question of gender selective abortions.

The Director of Public Prosecutions admitted: “The law does not, in terms, expressly prohibit gender-specific abortions”. So healthy baby girls are killed because they are girls, because abortion law effectively permits it. That’s how ‘My body, my choice’ logic has perverted safeguards and undermined feminism.

How long before the same happens with assisted dying law? Melanie Reid argues that “old ladies linger longest” with dementia. She and Toynbee count themselves part of a generation of independent women who won’t countenance lingering in a care home. Their ‘my body, my choice’ logic demands that doctors hand out lethal pills to be taken in the event of a dementia diagnosis.

This is nothing short of feminists campaigning to kill each other off. Since caring for children or elderly parents still falls mainly to women, feminists would be better served campaigning for carers. Women should be demanding adequate support for those who give up full-time work to care for elderly parents, not demanding the right to kill each other.

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Laura Keynes
Dr Keynes is a Cambridge-based academic, writer and critic with two very young children. She writes for Standpoint magazine, the Catholic Herald and The Tablet. Find her on twitter @LMKeynes.

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