‘Euthanasia will make it more rather than less painful’ – Britain a step closer to euthanasia?
The British media are once again awash with articles on Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying [assisted suicide] Bill, as members of the House of Lords began reviewing and debating it yesterday, Friday 7 November. The Bill, purportedly based on the US State of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, received its second reading in the Lords on 17 July.
In an unfortunate turn of events reported by Britain’s Daily Telegraph, two leading opponents of the Bill appear to have shifted position, opting for a system wherein a judge, rather than a doctor, would decide whether an assisted suicide request should be granted. The amendment, tabled by Lord Pannick, QC, gained the sympathy of Lord Carlile, QC, and Baroness Butler-Sloss, with Lord Carlile, QC, setting-out a rival version along similar lines:
What [my proposal] is intended to provide is a complete court-based model in which the merits could be considered by a court in a proper way just as it is done in other cases now. I believe that a system of this sort – contrary to the views which I conscientiously hold, by the way – might allow some cases of assisted suicide in those cases where it was shown beyond reasonable doubt that there was a breach of the relevant articles of the European Convention.
Baroness Butler-Sloss stated:
I would prefer the Noble Lord, Lord Carlile’s version, but I would say, speaking as a former judge, that the Noble Lord, Lord Pannick’s version would actually require the judge to take account of all the relevant factors. And I think that I would be astonished, speaking as a former judge, if the High Court didn’t go in for confirming that it was satisfied – and that is a high standard. The judge would have the power to require, for instance, a psychiatrist or other medical opinion if he or she was not satisfied that this patient was necessarily having the full capacity necessary to make this absolutely crucial decision.
Ahead of the debate, a leading anti-euthanasia coalition group, Care Not Killing, distributed ‘10 Reasons the UK Shouldn’t Follow Oregon’s Example’:
- there has been a steady increase in annual numbers of people undergoing assisted suicide in Oregon;
- the Oregon health department is funding assisted suicide but not treatment for some cancer patients;
- patients are living for many years after having been prescribed lethal drugs for ‘terminal illness’ showing that the eligibility criteria are being stretched;
- the vast majority of those choosing to kill themselves are doing so for existential reasons rather than on the basis of real medical symptoms;
- many people in Washington and Oregon give ‘fear of being a burden on others’ as a reason for ending their lives;
- fewer than three per cent of patients are being referred for formal psychiatric or psychological evaluation;
- a substantial number of patients dying under the Oregon Act do not have terminal illnesses;
- it is virtually certain that there is under-reporting of assisted suicide cases in Oregon;
- some doctors know the patient for less than a week before prescribing the lethal drugs;
- the presence of no independent witnesses in over 80% of cases is a recipe for elder abuse.
Care not Killing point out that, in 2013, 93% of people requesting assisted suicide cited ‘loss of autonomy’, 89% said they were ‘less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable’, and 73% listed ‘loss of dignity’. ‘These are not physical but existential symptoms’, says Care Not Killing. In Washington in 2013, 61% of people opting for assisted suicide gave the fear of being a burden to family, relatives and caregivers as a key reason, while 13% cited the ‘financial implications of treatment.’ In the same year in Oregon the equivalent figures were 49% and 6%. As the anthropologist and intellectual critic, René Girard has declared:
The experience of death is going to get more and more painful, contrary to what many people believe. The forthcoming euthanasia will make it more rather than less painful because it will put the emphasis on personal decision in a way which was blissfully alien to the whole problem of dying in former times. It will make death even more subjectively intolerable, for people will feel responsible for their own deaths and morally obligated to rid their relatives of their unwanted presence. Euthanasia will further intensify all the problems its advocates think it will solve.