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Euthanasia – Churches' Update - 4th February 2006

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Please use this information to inform pastors and fellow church members through letters, talks and in church magazines and on websites. Action points and prayer points are highlighted. You can find much more information at www.carenotkilling.org.uk.

1. Launch of Care Not Killing

Care Not Killing, a new alliance of 21 organisations formed to promote palliative care and oppose euthanasia, was launched on Tuesday 31 January. Members of the alliance include the Association of Palliative Medicine, the British Council of Disabled People, RADAR, the Christian Medical Fellowship, the Church of England, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, the Evangelical Alliance and the Medical Ethics Alliance.

The launch was featured on BBC breakfast TV, the Radio Four Today programme and Radio Five Live and made top billing on the BBC health pages.

Organisations (including churches) can join the alliance either as CORE members (£1,500) or associate members (£50) and individuals can join for £10. To join the alliance, to sign up for the e-newsletter see the website at www.carenotkilling.org.uk which carries interviews with senior doctors and an abundance of news links, articles and resources.

Copies of new Care Not Killing Leaflet 'Assisted Suicide; What is happening in parliament and what can I do about it?' are available free to churches to distribute – send an email to info@carenotkilling.org.uk.

2. VES's attempt to rebrand itself as 'Dignity in Dying' provokes widespread protest

The Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES) has changed its name to Dignity in Dying, sparking protest. The VES had hoped that the name change would improve its public image and help rebrand itself as a human rights group calling for free choice on all end-of-life decisions.

But the Association of Palliative Medicine has accused the organisation of trying to suggest dignity in terminal illness can only be won by euthanasia. It has written to the Trade and Industry Secretary to oppose the change.

The letter, also signed by the Medical Ethics Alliance, urged Alan Johnson to reject the euthanasia charity's application for a new trademark based on the phrase. It read: 'Dignity in dying is a phrase in common parlance in many sections of the population, being used by patients worried about the care they will receive.'

'Patients often ask whether they will have dignity in dying because they are frightened, feel abandoned, are worried they might be left incontinent, confused or in another state that will undermine their personal dignity. These patients are not asking for euthanasia or assisted suicide; they are asking for good care,' the letter said. 'For the Voluntary Euthanasia Society to seek a monopoly of a common English phrase in order to invest it with a totally different meaning is dishonest and will create confusion,' it added.

The association's chairman John Wiles told the BBC: 'What we are trying to do is get away from the suggestion that you can only achieve dignity in dying with euthanasia - that we totally refute.' He said the phrase 'dying with dignity' also meant getting good palliative care and that it should not just be the prerogative of euthanasia campaigners.

Disability campaign group Radar said the VES' name change was an attempt to move away from negative connotations associated with the word euthanasia, before a Lords debate on a bill on assisted dying. Its chief executive Kate Nash said before there was a right to die there must be a right to live as full and equal members of a fair society. 'Assisted dying legislation will not create autonomy until supported independent living is a real societal value and a reality for disabled people.'

A Telegraph editorial titled 'Euthanasia's euphemism' concluded, 'it is hard to shake off the suspicion that euthanasiasts are shy of spelling out what they are really about, viz killing people.'

References

  1. Telegraph: Fury as euthanasia group puts dignity in new name (21 January 2006)
  2. BBC Website: New pro-euthanasia group name row(23 January 2006)
  3. Euthanasia's euphemism (23 January 2006)

3. Joffe Bill Update

Lord Joffe has announced that the second reading (debate stage) of his amended Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill will be on 12 May. The bill was reviewed in the last e-bulletin of 8 December 2005.

We can expect a strong campaign from the pro-euthanasia lobby as the date approaches. This will focus on high profile cases and opinion polls, such as that pictured on the VES (DiD) website purporting to show public support for a change in the law.

4. Motor neurone disease

The high profile motor neurone disease (MND) cases of Annie Lindsell, Diane Pretty, Reginald Crew and John Close are often used by the pro-euthanasia lobby to advance their cause; and their surviving spouses and relatives Brian Pretty, Wyn Crew and Evelyn Close are frequently seen and heard on media advocating a change in the law.

Brian Pretty has recently remarried and has been named patron of the renamed VES Dignity in Dying.

There are approximately 5,000 MND patients in the country for whom the average life expectancy is 14 months. Of the 1,000 MND patients who die in the UK each year (three every day) most die comfortably with good palliative care. Choking virtually never occurs. Indeed after Diane Pretty's death, Dr Ryszard Bietzk, head of medical services at the Pasque Hospice, Luton, where Mrs Pretty was cared for, said her death was 'perfectly normal, natural and peaceful'.

Requests for euthanasia or assisted suicide are extremely rare, even for MND patients, when patients' needs are properly addressed. The well-publicised exceptions of MND patients who want assisted suicide are simply that - well-publicised exceptions. It follows that the key priority must be to make the best quality care more readily available.

New advances also mean that the care of MND patients is improving all the time. A recent report in the journal Lancet Neurology outlines research where a University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne found quality of life was improved, and life expectancy boosted, in some cases by years by the use of a simple ventilator and facemask.

The law should not be changed for a few insistent individuals as it would put a much greater number of vulnerable people at risk of feeling under pressure, whether real or imagined, to request early death.

An excellent review on motor neurone disease is available on the website of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Dying Well.

In a BBC interview at the time of Diane Pretty's death George Levvy of the Motor Neurone Disease Association explains that with good palliative care no MND patient need die in distress.

5. Dr Anne Turner

Dr Anne Turner's assisted suicide at the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland has provoked huge media interest. The 66-year-old retired GP from Bath, who suffered from progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), travelled with her three children and a BBC Television news crew to commit suicide the day after the VES sought publicity for its change of name to 'Dignity in Dying'. The case is now being given high prominence on the VES website.

Despite the media hype surrounding the case much of the media reflection has not been in Dr Turner's favour – and her move seems to have elicited words of caution from leading journalists and commentators. PSP, which also took the life of comedian Dudley Moore, is not unlike Parkinson's disease in its clinical course, producing disturbances of gait, balance, swallowing and vision. The average survival is ten years. Dr Turner had only been diagnosed in 2004 and was still able to walk with a stick. She had apparently announced her intention to seek assisted suicide on the day she learned she had the condition. See in particular Mick Hume's article in the Times, 'A grisly theatre of death – not exactly an advertisement for a dignified end'

6. Misleading Guardian editorial

A misleading editorial in the Guardian on 19 January titled 'Euthanasia: Moving to a more open system' has provoked a stream of very good letters including many from palliative care doctors including John Wiles, Ilora Finlay, Mark Cheesman and Idris Baker. Links to letters below:

7. Euthanasia 'extremely rare in UK'

Euthanasia is extremely rare in the UK and few doctors want to see it legalised, a study says. Pro-euthanasia campaigners have long argued terminally-ill patients are helped to die in secret but fewer than 1% of deaths were by euthanasia in 2004 and few doctors want to see the law change, the Brunel University survey of 857 doctors found.

8. Vast majority of doctors oppose 'assisted dying'

Doctors.net.uk (DNUK), a free Internet network of UK doctors, conducted an on-line poll of its 120,000+ members in November 2005 on euthanasia and palliative care. Members were emailed the following statement which also appeared on the homepage of the website and asked either to agree or disagree.

With current improvements in palliative care a change in legislation to allow physician assisted suicide and/or euthanasia is not necessary.

A total of 2,213 doctors responded, believed to be a record for DNUK polls. The results?

Agree: 1517 (69%)
Disagree: 696 (31%)

9. Supreme Court ruling on Oregon's assisted suicide law

The US Supreme Court has upheld a law allowing doctors in the state of Oregon to assist terminally ill patients to commit suicide. Justices voted 6-3 to back the law, under which doctors are thought to have assisted with at least 208 suicides.

Much has been made of the ruling by the pro-euthanasia lobby but the BBC news headline US judges back assisted suicide was misleading.

Wesley Smith's 19 January review 'Nothing to die over' is a helpful explanation of the significance of the judgement. 'The Supreme Court did not issue a sweeping endorsement of physician-assisted suicide. Nor, did it 'uphold' the Oregon statue as a matter of constitutional law. Rather, the Court's decision is so narrowly drawn and steeped in the arcania of regulatory and statutory interpretation that it would normally spark little interest outside of administrative-law journals.'

10. Action Points

Our key priorities now are to change the hearts and minds of the public and to do all we can to ensure that the new bill does not get beyond the House of Lords.

  1. Write to members of the House of Lords as the second reading of the Joffe Bill approaches on 12 May urging them to oppose the bill and vote against it. A full directory of members of the House of Lords, along with the postal address, is available on the Parliament website. The full debate on 10 October can be read in Hansard on the UK parliament website. If peers have already spoken against the bill, thank them for the stand they have taken.
  2. Argue specifically against the Oregon Bill. The Care Not Killing leaflet (available from info@carenotkilling.org.uk) gives a good introduction. You will find Andrew Fergusson's excellent article on Oregon, 'Going West', in the Summer 2005 edition of Triple Helix. Also see Baroness Finlay's address in the House of Lords debate, CMF Press release, and the ITF Oregon briefing paper. Write the letter in your own words and preferably keep it to a single side of A4.
  3. Meet your local MP to share your concerns. You can find out who your MP is by consulting the Parliamentary website locator. The site will also provide extensive links to your MPs concerns and voting record.
  4. Join the Care Not Killing Alliance on the website at www.carenotkilling.org.uk and encourage others to do the same.
  5. Be informed. Read this and past ebulletins thoroughly and check the Care Not Killing Website regularly for updated information and comment on the Joffe bill.
  6. Educate pastors and church members and others in our church about the issues. Hold meetings to bring people up to date on the issues.
  7. Pray for changed minds and hearts, for all those involved in the debate and specifically that the bill will not proceed. Pray particularly for leaders in the churches to wake up to what is happening.
  8. Give thanks for the recent successful launch of Care Not Killing and that the majority of medical opinion is still strongly against euthanasia.

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