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'Promote Palliative Care; don't be deceived by Assisted Dying option', says CMF Scotland

Published: 10th October 2005

On the day of an important debate in the House of Lords, the Christian Medical Fellowship, which represents 5,000 UK doctors, has issued a warning to both parliaments and the public not to be deceived by moves to legalise “Assisted Dying” (AD)

The House of Lords debate the Select Committee Report on Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill on Monday 10th October. Lord Joffe has stated his intention to reintroduce a revised Bill following the debate, taking heed of the report's recommendation that euthanasia and Assisted Dying be dealt with separately. It is also likely that Jeremy Purvis MSP will introduce a similar Bill in Holyrood in the near future. The new Bills are expected to be along the lines of the Oregon model, where AD but not euthanasia has been legalised.

Dr Peter Kiehlmann, GP in Aberdeen and member of the NE Scotland Cancer Co-ordinating & Advisory Group, commented 'we are very concerned about these moves to legalise Assisted Dying. Patients who are dying need high quality medical and nursing care. Palliative care is advancing very rapidly both in relieving the spectrum of suffering experienced by those with a terminal illness, and in supporting their families. Good Palliative Care can give dignity to people in their last days- often a special time for families; and doctors want to kill pain, not our patients. Allowing AD will effectively legalise euthanasia as well - as some patients will not be physically able to end their own lives, and, in as many as a fifth of cases where patients are prescribed legal lethal drugs where AD is legal; a doctor has to step in and finish the job, by lethal injection. Doctors want to cure and care for patients not to kill them.”

The Royal College of GPs, the largest medical Royal College with over 23,000 members, recently held a lengthy consultation seeking the views of members, in which responses were overwhelmingly in favour of rejecting a change in the law. They affirmed on 16 September 2005 that 'with current improvements in palliative care, good clinical care can be provided within the existing guidelines and that patients can die with dignity. A change in legislation is not needed.'

But pressure is being exerted to convince peers and the public that AD is not 'euthanasia proper'. However, in addition to a proposed law being unworkable, there is no moral difference between AD and euthanasia. In both cases what the doctor means to do is to bring about the death of the patient. He or she is the moral agent without whom the death could not happen. AD is simply euthanasia “one step back.

Legalising AD would also put pressure on patients so as not to place a burden on relatives, carers or a society short of resources. This was the key argument that persuaded the last Lords' Committee considering the issue to oppose any change to the law in 1994. Lord Walton concluded that it was 'virtually impossible to ensure that all acts of euthanasia were truly voluntary' and that 'any liberalisation of the law in the United Kingdom could not be abused.” The 1994 Lords' Committee were also concerned that 'vulnerable people - the elderly, lonely, sick or distressed - would feel pressure, whether real or imagined, to request early death.'

There are also many concerns about Oregon. Of those who ask for AD, 35% said they feared being a burden. Only 5% given AD in Oregon had a psychiatric assessment, and of those who did over half had conditions that were treatable - pain or depression. This is why another dozen US States have rejected similar legislation - and why the Supreme Court is reviewing Oregon's law right now.'

There is an urgent need for people to be informed of the issues and not to believe the deception that AD is a soft option. If legalised, Assisted Dying and Euthanasia will radically change the social air we all breathe by severely undermining respect for life. We must persist in standing firm against a move down the 'slippery slope''. It is openly reported that as well as Voluntary Euthanasia deaths, in Holland over 1000 people are given involuntary euthanasia every year – i.e. someone decides their lives are not worth living and ends their life without consent. This may be why many people in Dutch Nursing Homes are in fear of their nurses and doctors- not knowing whether the prescribed medicine is to cure or to kill.

We should be proud that Scotland has led the way in caring for the vulnerable in society with many hospices, the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care and much good work going on in hospitals and the community. We should continue to care for the vulnerable members of society and not put undue pressure on them. The vast majority of calls for euthanasia and AD are really calls for good medical care. Requests for euthanasia and assisted suicide are extremely rare when a patient's physical, social, emotional and spiritual needs are properly met. Our priority must therefore be to make the best possible whole-person care more widely available.'

For further information:

Steven Fouch (CMF Head of Communications) 020 7234 9668

Media Enquiries:

Alistair Thompson on 07970 162 225

About CMF:

Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) was founded in 1949 and is an interdenominational organisation with over 5,000 doctors, 900medical and nursing students and 300 nurses and midwives as members in all branches of medicine, nursing and midwifery. A registered charity, it is linked to over 100 similar bodies in other countries throughout the world.

CMF exists to unite Christian healthcare professionals to pursue the highest ethical standards in Christian and professional life and to increase faith in Christ and acceptance of his ethical teaching.

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