Over 100 Britons have now died at the Swiss assisted suicide facility Dignitas, though this represents a tiny proportion of Britons who have died in the last 10 years. We are told that a further 800 have registered with the organisation, including 34 who have expressed their intention to travel to Zurich to end their lives.
Meanwhile, Lord Falconer and Baroness Jay have signalled their intention to lay down an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill in order to decriminalise assisting suicide for Britons travelling abroad.
These moves are the latest steps in a long-running, well-funded and carefully orchestrated campaign by the pro-euthanasia lobby to change the law on assisted suicide.
The Coroners and Justice Bill is aimed at tightening up the Suicide Act 1961 to prevent the internet promotion of youth suicide. Ironically, Lord Falconer is attempting to hijack the bill for a completely different purpose – to allow terminally ill people to travel abroad for assisted suicide.
The clear intention of the pro-euthanasia lobby is to establish a beachhead for further assaults on the law in the next parliament.
The present law is there to protect vulnerable people and Parliament has firmly resisted three attempts in the last five years to change it. The current law acts as an effective deterrent by ensuring that all but the most determined individuals do not seek to push its boundaries.
But if the law were to change we would see a very different kind of case, where people who are depressed, disabled or elderly are placed under pressure, whether real or imagined, whether overt or subtle, to end their lives so as not to pose a financial or care burden to relatives or the state.
|QUOTE|This pressure will be particularly acutely felt at a time of economic recession with cuts in health spending imminent.
If assisted suicide is decriminalised for terminally ill patients travelling abroad, it will have been established as a ‘therapeutic option’. Lobbyists will then seek to extend the selection criteria through bringing new cases through the courts and new bills through Parliament.
This is evident from the fact that almost all the high profile cases used by activists to change public opinion on this issue thus far involve people, like Debbie Purdy, who are not actually terminally ill.
If this amendment is passed, it will then be argued on grounds of equality, as it has in other parts of the world, that assisted suicide should be offered for chronically ill and disabled people who want it, that euthanasia should be offered for those who are unable to self-administer lethal drugs, and that non-voluntary euthanasia should be available for mentally incompetent people, including minors, whose lives are judged not to be worth living or who “would not want to have lived this way”.
What we are witnessing here is an incremental political strategy, and Parliament and the Public should not be lulled into a sense of security by this apparently modest beginning. By seeking acceptance for assisted suicide in principle Lord Falconer’s amendment is a recipe for the abuse and exploitation of vulnerable people. This bill is not the proper context for such a seismic shift in legal principle.
The current number of cases of people going to the Dignitas is actually very small – only 100 in ten years against 6 million deaths in Britain over the same period. But the pro-euthanasia lobby, aided and abetted by sections of the media, have fuelled public anxiety about the dying process by running a high-profile campaign in order to create the impression that there is a growing demand for assisted suicide when there is not.
Persistent requests for assisted suicide or euthanasia, when people are receiving good care, remain extremely rare, which is why we have always argued that we should be making a priority of making the best care much more widely accessible.
All British bodies of medical professionals, including the BMA and the Royal Medical Colleges, remain firmly opposed to a change in the law believing it to be both dangerous and unnecessary. If the pro-euthanasia lobby wish to change things they should seek to do so openly and honestly, rather than furthering their agenda by sneaking in assisted dying through the back door.