New European coalition formed to fight euthanasia laws

(Photo: Grażyna Suchecka)

A new coalition has been formed to combat the growing threat of euthanasia across Europe.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Europe was formally announced in Brussels on Wednesday to fight the proliferation of assisted suicide laws across the continent.

The EPCE states the following aims:

• to oppose the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide and will work to repeal existing laws allowing it.

• to promote the best care and support for vulnerable people who are sick, elderly, or disabled.

• to affirm life through helping people to find meaning, purpose and hope in the face of suffering and despair.

It brings together, among others, the UK's CARE Not Killing group, which is presently mobilising to fight a second attempt by independent MSP and sufferer of Parkinson's disease Margo MacDonald to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland.

Although the previous attempt in 2010 was defeated by 85 votes to 16, with two free voting abstentions, Ms MacDonald now believes that cases such as Tony Nicklinson in England, who had locked-in syndrome, will help her win the debate. This despite the opposition to such a change by the Scottish Government and the widespread concern that Scotland could become a destination for 'suicide tourism' in a similar manner to Switzerland.

Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick, Coordinator of EPC-Europe said: "The UK, France and Germany are currently considering legislation, but overwhelming evidence from jurisdictions where euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide is legal, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, demonstrates beyond doubt, how quickly and easily euthanasia is extended to others, especially disabled people and elderly people.

"High-profile cases here have provoked international outrage leading commentators to think of Belgium as the new world leader in exploiting euthanasia against those with disabilities and mental health issues for example."

Examples that are particularly concerning to the group are those of Nathan Verhelst - born Nancy - who was killed on live television. Verhelst decided to end his life after a series of botched sex change operations brought on because of his mother's extreme displeasure that he had been born a girl. His mother said she hated girls, found her child "so ugly" at birth, and did not mourn his death.

"I was the girl that nobody wanted," Verhelst told Het Laatste Nieuws newspaper just hours before he died. "While my brothers were celebrated, I got a storage room above the garage as a bedroom. 'If only you had been a boy', my mother complained. I was tolerated, nothing more."

Other cases include Mark and Eddy Verbessem, the 45-year-old deaf identical twins, who were euthanised by the Belgian state, after their eyesight began to fail, and Ann G, who had anorexia and who chose to have her life ended after being sexually abused by the psychiatrist who was supposed to be treating her for the life-threatening condition.

There is also grave concern over laws such as the Groningen Protocol in the Netherlands that means disabled newborn babies are killed on grounds of "their perceived future suffering, or that of their parents". This includes newborns with spina bifida, the same condition that the Paralympic athlete and Life Peer Tanni Grey-Thompson has.

Grey-Thompson, who has won 11 Paralympic Gold medals, said: "If that [the Groningen Protocol] had existed in the UK when I was born there is a possibility that I would not be alive now. I would never have been allowed to experience life and my daughter might never have been born."

The number of deaths by euthanasia in the Netherlands has increased by 64% between 2005 and 2010, at a time when the Dutch population grew by less than 2% over the same period. A recent development has been the introduction of mobile euthanasia clinics in 2012, allowing people to be killed by lethal injection when family doctors refuse. Yet the Dutch are now discussing the extension of euthanasia to people with dementia despite huge concerns about the ability of sufferers of this condition to give proper consent.

Dr Fitzpatrick concluded: "EPC-Europe brings people from a wide variety of backgrounds together to oppose the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide, promote the best care and support for vulnerable people and to help people to find meaning, purpose and hope in the face of suffering and despair. We invite others who share our concerns to join us and work alongside us."

While talking about the particular case of Scotland, the CARE Not Killing convener Dr Gordon Macdonald said: "Europe can learn from Scotland's example as a country which has rejected the view that some people's lives are not worth living. We believe that society has a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable."