Glyn Davies MP: The Assisted Dying Bill would lead us down a dangerous road
Last week, at a meeting in Parliament, Rob Marris MP handed out copies of his 'assisted dying' bill. He has also emailed to MPs a memorandum to justify it.
Mr Marris does not like the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) making decisions about whether individual cases of assisted suicide warrant prosecution. "In a democracy", he proclaims, "it is elected representatives who should make the laws, not an unelected civil servant".
The law in question (the 1961 Suicide Act) was made by Parliament. That is Parliament's role - to legislate. But, if Mr Marris refers to the Act, he will find that it specifically requires the DPP to consider any cases of assistance with suicide and to decide, in the light of all the evidence, whether a prosecution should be undertaken. In other words, far from usurping the role of Parliament, the DPP is actually doing just what she is required to do by a law made by Parliament.
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Mr Marris will be aware that breaches of the existing law in this area are rare. Less than 20 cases a year cross the desk of the DPP throughout the whole of England and Wales. However, he tells us that "terminally ill people are ending their own lives" and that "some doctors are complicit in hastening patients' deaths".
The claim about terminally ill patients ending their own lives rests on an extrapolation of data from just seven out of 139 health authorities. Even so, the number is dwarfed by the death rate from legalised assisted suicide in Oregon. Oregon's death rate from this source last year is the equivalent of over 1,500 assisted suicide deaths in England and Wales if we had a similar law here. And it is Oregon's law that is the model for Mr Marris' bill.
As for the claim that doctors are already engaging in hastening patients' deaths, I can do no better than quote the words of Sir Graeme Catto, Chair of the campaigning group Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society). He told Mr Marris' meeting last week that "that is highly unlikely" because "doctors now work in teams and it is very hard to get one-to-one contact". In fact, Sir Graeme was only confirming independent research, which has concluded that covert hastening of deaths of patients by doctors in the UK is "rare or non-existent".
Mr Marris is at pains to assure us that he is not advocating euthanasia, just assisted suicide. That may be so, but assisting suicide is just euthanasia at one remove. The essential question before Parliament is this: do you want to license doctors to involve themselves in deliberately bringing about the deaths of some of their patients? Most doctors don't want that.
All these 'assisted dying' bills rest on purely arbitrary criteria - like terminal illness (but not chronic illness or disability) and assisted suicide (but not administered euthanasia). Their boundaries are irrational and therefore permeable. That is why so many people are worried about the thin end of the wedge. This is a road down which we should not go.