On 3 July an inspirational Parliamentary Rally to promote better palliative care and oppose the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia was held in Westminster by Care Not Killing in association with CARE and a number of other organisations. Attendees listened to an influential group of speakers, addressing the end of life challenges in question from both the human rights and medical care perspective, all opposing a change in the law on assisted suicide or euthanasia.
Interestingly the event coincided with the news this week that Lord Falconer is intending to introduce a Private Members Bill to legalise assisted suicide next year, following a consultation launched on the same day as the rally by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Choice at the End of Life. This announcement serves as a stark reminder that there is a clear desire from a small minority of organisations and individuals to change the law. It reiterates the importance of being equipped and encouraged to work together to prevent the legalisation of assisted suicide.
The rally workshop was chaired by Dan Boucher of CARE and included presentations from Fiona Bruce, the Member of Parliament for Congleton, Dr Peter Saunders, Head of Christian Medical Fellowship, Andrea Williams of Christian Concern and Peter Williams of Right to Life. These explored the case against the legalisation of assisted suicide, the importance of advocating palliative care – of which the UK is a leading provider – and the best way to approach your MP on the issue.
The rally itself included powerful speeches from the Rt. Hon Ann Widdecombe, Prof Lord Ian McColl and Prof Lord David Alton and Jim Dobbin MP. Speaker after speaker warned the audience of the pressure people will experience to end their lives if assisted suicide is legalised and the danger of incremental extension with activists campaigning over time for new categories of people to qualify for it. The situation in Holland, where euthanasia has been legalised, paints a disturbing picture of the erosion of safeguards with at least 1,000 euthanasia deaths each year carried out without the patient’s consent or request. Economic arguments have already begun to influence medical decisions in places where forms of euthanasia have been legalised. The sliding scale of treatment costs speaks for itself: £5,000 for chemotherapy, £1,000 for a week of palliative care and £5 for the barbiturates used for assisted suicide. For example, in Oregon, a patient was refused chemotherapy but offered assisted suicide because it was covered under her insurance plan. They also explained the opposition of disability rights groups to any change in the law and that persistent requests for euthanasia are extremely rare if high standards of palliative care are offered.
Hard cases make bad law was the point emphasised by all contributors. If we define laws on the basis of our regard for the suffering in a small minority (e.g. the Tony Nicklinson case), rather than on the basis of our commitment to prevent suffering for the majority, we will expose the majority to all kinds of dangers from which the law currently protects them. Lawmakers should both remember all that palliative care has to offer and recognise the potential for the abuse, extension and corruption of a law passed with good intentions.
1. Three surveys done over a 10-year period by Dutch researchers show that in Holland at least 1,000 patients are killed every year through euthanasia without consent or without request. http://www.carenotkilling.org.uk/statements/euthanasia-and-assisted-suicide-a-joint-statement-by-doctors-and-lawye/ Accessed 6 July 2012.
2. Dr Peter Saunders, A presentation on the history of parliamentary campaigns and the issues involved, Care Not Killing Rally, Emmanuel Centre, 3 July 2012
3. Case of Barbara Wagner, Aug 2008 http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=5517492&page=1 and Case of Randy Stroup, July 2008, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,392962,00.html. Both articles accessed 7 June 2011