Euthanasia is back in the spotlight this week as Lord Falconer introduces the latest version of his Bill to legalise assisted dying into the Lords, and Jane Nicklinson and Paul Lamb take their appeals to the High Court. This is an issue that keeps coming back … endlessly. And will presumably continue, until campaigners achieve what they see as victory. There is a significant development this time, however, because Paul Lamb, paralysed from the neck down as result of a car accident in 1990, is petitioning for the right to have a doctor kill him. The effect of this, should he win, would be to legalise murder.
By contrast, Lord Falconer is calling for physician assisted suicide, to be permitted where two doctors agree the patient is suffering from terminal disease and has no more than six months to live. Compared with Paul Lamb’s campaign, this sounds positively reasonable, but there are a whole raft of reasons why both attempts should fail.
For a start, it is notoriously difficult to predict how long someone has to live, so immediately the primary basis of Lord Falconer’s Bill runs into problems. But even more compellingly, we know from the example of abortion that it would not long remain limited to a handful of the most distressing cases a year. In 1967, when abortion, was legalised, it was on the understanding there would be no more than two or three hundred cases per annum, for women in extremis. Within a year of passing, that figure had leapt to 6,000, and now regularly we are seeing around 200,000 a year, 98% of which are for ‘social causes’, meaning there are no legitimate medical grounds for termination at all, but that the baby is for some reason unwanted.
If, moved by compassion, we now allow assisted dying for those extreme cases of unbearable suffering, how long before we see a similar jump in figures to include the disabled, depressed, and anyone whose quality of life can be judged in some way deficient? How long before assisted suicide imperceptibly slips into euthanasia, as doctors take in upon themselves to be judge and jury in the trial for life? After all, isn’t this what’s happening already with the Liverpool “Care” Pathway, and it’s not even legal yet?
No, we should think long and hard before, for whatever reason, we legalise murder in our society. And we should definitely not place this kind of burden on our doctors, who surely entered the profession on the understanding they were going to save lives and help; not end them.
In many ways, with all the furore over the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill currently before Parliament, and the precarious state of government following the recent local election results, it feels almost as if this latest attempt might slide through under the radar. Certainly, Lord Falconer has said he is optimistic that this time it will pass through the Lords without opposition.
This must not be allowed to happen. If you agree, please, write to a member of the House of Lords today and let them know your views. Don’t let this invidious measure pass because their Lordships have read the press and think that this is what the country wants.