This was written for www.throughtheroof.org and is reproduced here by kind permission
For those who found my very detailed briefing too long to plough through, here is a summary of its main points:
1. What does the bill propose?
The bill would allow someone who has a terminal illness and is expected to die in the next six months to request a physician-assisted suicide provided that they have a voluntary, clear, settled and informed wish to end their own life, and have been offered all palliative care alternatives. It does not allow a doctor to end a patient’s life, but allows the doctor to give the patient whatever drugs and assistive devices they might need in order to end their own life.
2. What has happened in other countries which have a law like this?
In Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and Oregon where a physician-assisted death is permitted, some common patterns have emerged:
• There is no real way to ensure that someone is not being coerced into taking this decision e.g. by relatives who stand to benefit from the person’s will.
• Very tightly defined laws have gradually expanded to include many cases originally outside the remit of the law. This has happened not by amendments being made to the law, but by stretching the definitions of terms included in the law – e.g. “unbearable pain” has been extended to include depression and “terminal illness” to include psychiatric conditions previously considered treatable.
• A massive year-on-year increase in the numbers of assisted deaths has ensued.
• There have been disputed cases where it is believed someone was killed against their own or their family’s wishes.
• The practice has gone beyond voluntary assisted death to involuntary euthanasia.
• There is not one single example of a country where this law has been enacted and these effects have not been observed.
3. Are there any other worrying factors?
• There has been a blurring of ethical lines, so that organisations drafting and promoting the legislation are distributing the lethal drugs, and stand to profit financially as well as ideologically from an increase in assisted deaths.
• There is evidence of doctors failing to report assisted deaths to the proper authorities, so that the reported assisted deaths do not accurately reflect the actual numbers.
• A breakdown of trust has occurred between doctors and patients so that in Holland 10,000 people now carry anti-euthanasia passports for fear of being killed by doctors in the event of an illness or accident.
• In this country, Baroness Warnock has been advocating for a duty to die, that people should not have the right to be a burden to their relatives or the NHS. This is morally very different from a right to die.
• Already in the UK, healthy young people with a normal life expectancy are routinely and repeatedly invited to have “Do Not Resuscitate” written on their medical notes simply because they have a disability – something no one would ask their non-disabled peers. (see https://www.change.org/p/health-secretary-stop-asking-families-of-disabled-young-people-to-discuss-do-not-resuscitate-directives)
4. Does assisted suicide always work?
According to a BBC report, attempts at assisted suicide fail to lead to an easy death in almost one in five cases. There is evidence from Holland and Oregon of supposedly fatal doses leading to nothing other than gasping, vomiting and comas from which the patient later recovered.
In 18% of cases doctors felt the need to intervene. In countries where active euthanasia is permitted, this intervention takes the form of the doctor administering a lethal injection. The Marris bill does not provide for active euthanasia so we can expect to see cases like the one in Oregon where, after a man took the prescribed dose of lethal drugs, physical symptoms were so disturbing that his wife called 911. He was taken from his home to a hospital where he was revived.
5. Why shouldn’t people have the right to an assisted death?
• It is usually the “worried well” who favour assisted suicide – all the major disability organisations in this country oppose it because of the danger it would pose to vulnerable disabled people.
• There is abundant evidence that such laws lead to mistakes and abuses which can never be put right.
• Financially hard-pressed NHS trusts will be tempted to offer assisted death instead of costly treatment.
• As a society we have always been clear that suicide is not something to be encouraged. This law would change that, and in so doing would change something fundamental in the foundations of our society.
6. What is a Christian response?
• The Bible has always been clear that humans are made in the image of God, and to take a human life is a grave sin.
• These truths are also enshrined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
• Jean Vanier points out that our value comes not from the quality of our life or our ability to be productive but from being loved by God.
• This law would damage both the protection for vulnerable individuals and the nature of our society.
• It is part of being human that we show compassion to people at the cost of some personal sacrifice, rather than viewing them as a burden.
• The only guaranteed safeguard to disabled people’s right to life is not to have an assisted dying law.
7. What can I do?
• Contact your MP (www.writetothem.com) Most of them have not yet decided how to vote. Your email might sway your MP.
• Join a protest outside the Houses of Parliament during Friday’s debate (see http://www.notdeadyetuk.org/notdeadyet-news.html)
• Pray. There is a battle for the heart of our country and we should be employing our spiritual weapon of prayer in the fight against evil.