Report on rally and mass lobby of Parliament to resist euthanasia
On 3 June, campaign group Care Not Killing, of which Christian Concern is a member, held a rally and mass lobby of Parliament in order to promote better palliative care and oppose the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia.
At the rally delegates heard speeches from a number of expert speakers, including the Rt. Hon Ann Widdecombe, Lord Alton of Liverpool, Jim Dobbin MP, Fiona Bruce MP, Dr Peter Saunders, Brian Iddon, Kevin Fitzpatrick, Prof Lord McColl of Dulwich and Andrea Minichiello Williams.
Their speeches contained a range of arguments against weakening the current laws on assisted suicide and euthanasia.
Delegates later went to Parliament to talk to their MPs about the issues and highlight their opposition to any relaxation of the current laws.
The following points were made by those speaking on behalf of Care Not Killing:
- A change in the law to allow assisted suicide will place many sick and elderly people under significant pressure to end their lives to relieve family members from the physical, financial and emotional burden of care.
- These pressures on the vulnerable are likely to be greater following the UK’s economic crisis which has strained the financial resources of families, carers and health services. It will not be long before any “right” to die eventually becomes a “duty”.
- The current law provides vital protection against abuse of the vulnerable at the hands of relatives, friends or medical practitioners.
- Currently, assisting in a suicide is punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment. This acts as a strong deterrent, yet there is also discretion in the prosecution guidelines where there are very hard cases.
- Patients make very few requests for euthanasia when their physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs are met through high quality care and treatment. The efforts of the state should therefore be deployed in providing better and wider palliative care.
- Safeguards, such as limiting the availability of assisted suicide to terminally ill patients, are likely to be unworkable in practice since the term “terminal illness” is ambiguous and open to broad interpretation by medical practitioners.
- Any legalisation of assisted suicide is likely to be followed by an incremental extension of the categories of those eligible for the procedure; from terminally ill patients to those suffering from non-fatal conditions, including treatable psychological disorders such as depression.
- The inability of legislative safeguards to offer absolute protection against abuse is demonstrated by the current situation with regards toabortion which, despite being illegal except in certain limited circumstances, is now almost available on demand.
- The Disability Rights Commission, and all leading disability charities, including Scope, Not Dead Yet UK and Radar, do not want to see assisted suicide legalised as they believe that it will lead to increased prejudice towards them and place a burden on the disabled to end their lives prematurely.
- Most doctors in the UK, along with the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Association for Palliative Medicine are opposed to a change in the law.
- The number of British people travelling abroad to commit suicide is very small (15-20 per year) compared to the numbers in countries that have legalised assisted suicide or euthanasia. Figures indicate that with an ‘Oregon’ law we would have at least 1,200 deaths a year, and with a ‘Dutch’ law 13,000.
- Hard cases make bad law and even in a free democratic society there are limits to human freedom and autonomy. It is disproportionate to change the law, and therefore place the safety of millions of people, simply to meet the demands of a few determined individuals.
Pressure for legal change
The event was organised in order to resist mounting pressure for assisted suicide and euthanasia to be introduced in England and Wales.
Last month, two high profile assisted suicide cases were heard in the High Court. This included the case of Tony Nicklinson who has locked-in syndrome, and who argued that the principle of necessity should allow a doctor to end his life without being charged with murder.
This week Lord Falconer QC, with the help of pressure group Dignity in Dying (formerly known as the Voluntary Euthanasia Society), has announced his intention to bring forward a private member’s bill in the House of Lords aimed at legalising assisted suicide for mentally competent adults with less than twelve months to live.