IN A Spectator article headed ‘Assisted dying is inevitable’, Matthew Parris says he is one of those ‘who believe that the terminally ill for whom life has become unbearable should have the right to command its end’, although ‘naturally’ this campaign faces strong opposition. ‘Much of it comes from religious people who often hide their personal investment in their faith and attach themselves instead to secular and medical claims, aware that “God” does not, these days, clinch a public debate.’
Parris lists what he says are the standard objections to the scheme, brought forward by these devious religious critics, including the danger that ‘once our national culture openly condones such an act, the terminally ill may put pressure on themselves to do the deed’. He agrees that ‘moral pressure . . . may be felt even if it is not being applied by others’, although he does ‘sweep aside with impatience the argument that greedy relatives will trick the infirm into thinking it’s all over; that carers will insinuate thoughts of suicide into the minds of confused elderly patients. Very few are so horrid.’ Clearly, he never reads the newspapers.
However, ‘as to adding pressure upon the terminally ill to lift the burden they’re placing on others . . . well, let me bite the bullet. In time, I think that the spread and acceptance of assisted dying may indeed do that. And let me bite deeper into the bullet. I think this would be a good thing.’
He explains: ‘With advances in medical science, humans will get older and older, spending longer and longer as invalids, and with more and more of the last years of their lives in a condition that brings little pleasure and increasing pain. The option to foreshorten this will have to be more easily available and social mores will change to accommodate it.’
He concludes: ‘That includes the responsibilities the terminally ill feel towards those who must support them. We do feel these responsibilities now . . . We are right to acknowledge their weight. To act upon these feelings will eventually be normalised in popular morality. That is where this legislative journey ends, and that is where it should.’
But there is no need to speculate on what might happen if ‘assisted dying’ is legalised, for it is already happening wherever in the world it has been legalised. Those of us who are disabled and/or chronically sick are deeply concerned about this; Douglas Murray brilliantly highlighted the dangers in this same publication, and if the wider public gets to hear about the appalling situation in Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands and other jurisdictions, they will become less sanguine about the possibility of introducing a scheme of safe killing.
In the past, eugenicists quite openly stated their aims, seeing euthanasia as an enlightened and laudable way of ridding ‘the race’ of its ‘unfit’. Hitler took the idea to its logical conclusion, and after the war the euthanasia movement went into suspended animation for a few generations. Towards the end of the 20th century its philosophical descendant Dignity in Dying emerged, the campaign’s latest title helpfully signalling that a natural death is necessarily undignified.
Timing one’s own demise might seem a wonderful idea, but it is a terrible reality. In Canada, as has become clear, ‘Medical Assistance in Dying’ (‘MAiD’) is being used to save money on disability aids for the vulnerable and help for the poor. The next step down the slippery slope is to extend the ‘benefit’ of death to the mentally ill, but this has been put off for a while.
Unsurprisingly Canada never figures in calls for ‘assisted dying’, although advocates do sometimes mention ‘safeguards’ that will, they say, accompany any legislation here. Unfortunately for this argument, it has now been admitted that such ‘safeguards’ are simply included in ‘assisted dying’ legislation to ensure the safe passage of the law, after which they can be just as safely dismantled.
It is certainly very rare, if not unheard of, that the real reasons for introducing ‘assisted dying’ are voiced, and Mr Parris is to be congratulated for blurting out the truth: those tedious enough to take ‘an unconscionable time dying’ – which by definition includes the disabled, chronically sick and most old people – cost the State lots of money, representing not just a drain on state coffers but also a burden on their nearest and dearest.
He is right about one thing: assisted suicide/euthanasia would become normalised as the strong realise how very useful it is in getting rid of the weak. We might become a materially richer society by introducing ‘euthanomics’, but very much poorer in the way that matters most: our humanity. A society that kills its weak and vulnerable is not the sort of society that most of us would care to live in. As G K Chesterton observed, it would be a case of ‘the survival of the fiercest’.
We should thank him, if not for his sentiments, for his refreshing frankness. Not only is the ‘slippery slope’ a very real danger, but advocates welcome it. And with an overwhelmed NHS and ever-lengthening queues for treatment, what could possibly go wrong? Now, apparently, everyone has forgotten about the Liverpool Care Pathway, which turned out to be a route to death, and the more recent scandal of blanket ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ orders placed on care home residents during the covid pandemic in order to ‘save the NHS’.
History shows that in the matter of slippery slopes, it is always the weakest who go for a fall – but now, it seems, some will be applauding. Matthew Parris says that assisted dying is inevitable; well, dying is certainly inevitable, but killing as an economy measure – euthanomics – is not.