There are better ways of caring for the most vulnerable than assisted suicide
With attempts to legalise assisted suicide once again on the horizon, CARE say policymakers need to give greater consideration to the consequences of such a move in the UK, especially after recent events | Credit: Adobe
Legalising assisted suicide would go against the extraordinary efforts over the past 18 months to protect human life.
Despite still being in the covid-19 pandemic, there are now two major legislative attempts to change the law to legalise assisted suicide. Euphemistically termed ‘assisted dying’ by campaigners, the true reality of what is being proposed is that doctors be given legal powers to help patients kill themselves. In England and Wales, Baroness Molly Meacher’s Bill is trying to change the law to allow some patients with a terminal illness to access assisted suicide. Just like previous bill attempts, there’s already been plenty of talk of ‘choice’ and of ‘safeguards’. In Scotland, Orkney MSP Liam McArthur’s bill is aiming to achieve something similar.
There are those already trying to argue that any such change in the law is really not such a big deal. But such claims do not stand up to scrutiny. Legalising assisted suicide is no small thing. We’re talking about a fundamental shift in the way end of life care works. At present, the blanket ban on assisted suicide means there is an absolute protection for vulnerable people. Medical staff cannot suggest an assisted suicide because it’s against the law. Therefore, the bond of trust between patients and doctors is strong. That relationship will be poisoned if doctor-assisted suicide is on the statute book.
Moreover, in a free and democratic society, there is an acknowledgement that choice has limits. We might debate what these are, but the baseline principle is that choice is limited, generally, when it involves harm to others. For example, there are speeding limits in place to help protect and preserve life. A change in the law to legalise assisted suicide would create huge pressure on some of the most vulnerable people to end their lives, and it’s not wrong, therefore, to resist this change for the good of wider society.
Looking at evidence from other countries, you realise that people are citing the fear of being a burden as a reason for choosing assisted suicide. Legalising assisted suicide will not simply affect a small minority of people. It will affect every single person living with a terminal illness who may feel that they have a duty to die. It would also affect every person living with a disability. Disability groups are deeply concerned by the proposed changes to the law. They understand that laws send social messages. And an assisted suicide law would send a message that some lives – particularly lives that are limited in some way – are not as valuable as others.
Note, too, the extraordinary contradiction with what we’ve all witnessed over the last 18 months. During the covid-19 pandemic, we’ve gone out of our way as a society to protect the most vulnerable and to prioritise their care, through shielding and priority vaccinations. In other words, we’ve made a collective effort to save lives. Legalising assisted suicide will achieve the exact opposite.
Policy makers need to consider the bigger picture
Even a ‘modest’ assisted suicide bill proposal is just the start. It is the thin end of a wedge. Give it time, and the true desires of the pro-assisted suicide lobby will come through. What they really want is euthanasia, on demand, for everyone. That is what you have in places like Belgium and the Netherlands, where even children can be euthanised.
Policy makers need to consider the bigger picture. There are better ways of caring for patients on the NHS at the end of their lives than a lethal injection or some nerve paralysing drugs. The law’s duty is to protect and that’s why, ultimately, MPs, Peers and MSPs should vote against the respective attempts to legalise assisted suicide.
James Mildred is Chief Communications Officer at CARE.
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