Who could possibly be against assisted suicide? Well, all of these people…

by Oxford Students for Life

It is hard to doubt the good intentions of Lord Falconer, whose assisted suicide bill is being debated in the Lords on 18 July, two weeks from today. It is even harder not to be moved by the personal accounts of people who want to die, and their carers. But there is another side to this – one which has received less media coverage, but has convinced many of us that the Falconer Bill is extremely dangerous to public safety. When all is said and done, the Bill proposes to add ‘death’ to the services offered by the NHS and other health providers. And it creates a category of ‘lives not worth living’, which seems likely to expand over time. Baroness Warnock – as distinguished and respectable a supporter of assisted suicide as you will find – has said:

‘If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service… I think that’s the way the future will go, putting it rather brutally, you’d be licensing people to put others down.’

No wonder that a striking number of people and organisations, of many different kinds, have come out against assisted suicide.

Firstly, doctors. The British Medical Association’s crystal-clear policy, held consistently since 2006, is that assisted suicide threatens lives, weakens the ethos of the whole profession, and neglects the care which can be offered to patients in distress. The Royal College of Physicians is ‘firmly opposed’ to assisted suicide, arguing that ‘our duty of care is to work with patients to mitigate and overcome their clinical difficulties and suffering. It is clear to us that this does not include being, in any way, part of their suicide.’ The World Medical Association calls assisted suicide ‘unethical’; The Royal College of GPs reaffirmed its opposition in February.

The psychiatrist Baroness Sheila Hollins has argued that safeguards for a ‘clear and settled intention’ are practically impossible to implement. She adds: ‘Fear about dying calls for better palliative care services, a field in which Britain is already a world leader, and for a public that is better informed about the realities, rather than the scare stories, about death and dying.’

Secondly, people with disabilities. A recent statement signed by the respective leaders of Disability Rights UK and Scope warns: ‘We are deeply concerned that a change in the law will lead to disabled people – and other vulnerable people, including the elderly – feeling pressure to end their lives.’ The great Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, another signatory to the statement, comments that reading the Falconer Bill sends ‘a chill down the spine’. As Baroness Jane Campbell and Richard Hawkes of Scope have both noted , Belgium’s child euthanasia laws are themselves a warning about the slippery slope.

Thirdly, parliamentarians. The Scottish Parliament voted against assisted suicide in 2010. The House of Lords rejected similar legislation to the Falconer Bill in 2009 and 2006.

Lord Winston, speaking in 2006, pointed out: ‘We cannot predict how people may feel about the future and to take that view is ultimately the most presumptuous thing that we can do.’

David Cameron is opposed: ‘My worry has always been about whether people will be unfairly pressurised.’ Nick Clegg, whose mother is Dutch, is also against changing the law: he remarks that the euthanasia laws in the Netherlands have ‘created a permissive culture, where people start going beyond the letter of the law.’

Fourthly, faith communities. The fullest statement came in a 2005 letter signed by the national leaders of the Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, Anglican, Catholic, Evangelical, Muslim, Jewish and Greek Orthodox communities. Assisted suicide, they wrote, would ‘radically change the social air we all breathe by severely undermining respect for life’. And this is not only a conservative concern: the prominent liberal Anglican Giles Fraser has written movingly in his Guardian column against a new law.

Fifthly, legal experts. An exhaustive report by Lord Carlile, Baroness Butler-Sloss and Lord Brennan has concluded that changing the law is unsafe. In the words of Butler-Sloss, ‘The law is there to protect us all. We tinker with it at our peril.’

Finally – and this should count very heavily – there are all the voices of the terminally ill and the vulnerable, and their families and carers. Just read some of the comments on this petition against the Falconer Bill:

‘As a disabled person, the thought of starting on that slippery slope towards a right to die, rather than a right to live, is terrifying.’

‘This is literally a matter of life and death – changing this law could well lead to people like me being euthanized because someone else has decided I am terminally ill, and I’m so brow beaten that I agree with them to stop being a “burden”.’

‘I have just reached eighty, and can feel the pressure that I would be more use to some, if dead!’

If we won’t listen to the voices of the experts, we must at least listen to those who are frightened of coming under pressure to end their own lives.

Go here to write to members of the Lords about the bill.

(D.H.)

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