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On assisted dying, don’t mention the money!


I AM not of an age to remember that classic sitcom Fawlty Towers when it was first aired in the 70s, but I have since watched the entire back catalogue.

In one brilliant episode, the xenophobic boss Basil Fawlty not only manages to concuss himself while trying to mount a moose head on the wall but also upsets a group of German guests by constantly talking about the war.

It’s a revealing piece of comedy which coined the phrase ‘don’t mention the war’.

Last week, the pro-assisted dying movement had its very own ‘don’t mention the war’ moment, when two Scottish ethicists published a chilling report, Counting the Cost of Denying Assisted Dyingon the economics of assisted suicide. 

Their conclusions are stark – legalising assisted suicide would save the NHS money and increase organ donation.

It exposes an important and usually concealed agenda of the pro-assisted and euthanasia movement: that while the authors may not believe money should be the primary motivation for assisted suicide, there are some people who do.

We only have to look at the US state of Oregon to find the evidence. An assisted suicide law introduced in 1997 has been liberalised over time, with the erosion of safeguards and a dramatic increase in the range and number of conditions that are eligible for the lethal cocktail of barbiturates.

In the first full year of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, 27 people committed suicide using it.  By 2017, 143 people were recorded as doing so, representing an increase of 430 per cent. These figures have continued to rise – in 2018 they grew to 178 and last year 188. 

To put this into context, Oregon has a population of roughly 4.2million In the UK with a population of 66.4million, 188 assisted suicide deaths would extrapolate to some 2,954.

Also of note were 37 lethal prescriptions that were issued in Oregon, but not used. The state authorities do not know why and do not follow up what happens to the poison. One medic was responsible for issuing 33 prescriptions in 2019.

At the same the key wording of their law, ‘an incurable and irreversible disease that has been medically confirmed and will, within reasonable medical judgment, produce death within six months‘, now includes patients who decide to refuse life-saving and or life-extending treatment. So last year some people with diabetes, arthritis and ‘complications from a fall’ qualified.

Campaigners such as Lord Falconer (who was instrumental in declaring the Iraq War legal) and indeed the BBC, which has unremittingly acted as the cheerleader for a change in the law, try to gloss over these facts as mere details, but the one issue that they can’t as easily brush under the carpet is the economics behind those ending their lives.  

For the reality is that majority of those who end their lives in Oregon cite fear of being a burden to family, friends and carers. In 2019 this figure was six in 10 (59 per cent). The proportion citing the financial implications of treatment was 7.4 per cent. By comparison concerns about pain were cited by one third of those covered by the latest report.

You might think it strange to focus on a US state with a small population when similar problems can be seen elsewhere, but Oregon matters because it is the model which is often put forward as a system that works well and one the UK should copy.

So it would be crazy when looking at the problems around assisted suicide to ignore Oregon, especially when we look at the economics of bumping off sick or disabled people, or even those with chronic conditions. As one of the report authors, David Shaw, told the Times, the potential savings of allowing assisted dying is ‘the elephant in the room’. He continued: ‘We are simply arguing that the economic costs of denying assisted dying should not be ignored.’ 

But don’t expect to hear these arguments from those campaigning for a change in the law, because they leave the Basil Fawlty role to others such as Katie Hopkins who proposed euthanasia vans because ‘there are far too many old people in the UK’. 

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Alistair Thompson
Alistair Thompson
Alistair Thompson is a political campaigner and director of Team Britannia PR.

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