Published: 9th October 2005
On the eve of an important debate in the House of Lords, the Christian Medical Fellowship, which represents 5,000 UK doctors, has issued a warning to parliament and the public not to be deceived by moves to legalise physician assisted suicide.
The House of Lords debate the Select Committee Report on Lord Joffe’s Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill on Monday 10th October. 65 peers will speak, equally divided for and against. Lord Joffe has stated his intention to reintroduce a revised Bill in the weeks following the debate, taking heed of the report’s recommendation that euthanasia and physician assisted suicide (PAS) be dealt with separately. The new Bill is expected to be along the lines of the Oregon model, where PAS but not euthanasia has been legalised.
General Secretary, Peter Saunders commented ‘We remain opposed to these moves to make assisted dying more palatable. A lot of pressure has been exerted to convince peers and the public that PAS is not ‘euthanasia proper’. But the key issue is intention. There is no moral difference between PAS 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. PAS is simply euthanasia “one step back”’.
Allowing PAS would effectively legalise euthanasia as well due to the need to provide ‘help’ to incapacitated patients not able to end their own lives, and, in the case of the well-highlighted problems achieving ‘completion’, requiring the doctor to step in and finish the job.
PAS would also inevitably introduce an element of coercion by placing pressure on patients to request PAS 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.’ It is striking that of reasons given for people requesting PAS in Oregon, 35% indicated that they feared being a burden. 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 a real need’ Saunders continued, ‘for individuals to be informed of the issues and not to buy in to the deception that PAS is a softer option. We must persist in standing firm against a move down the ‘slippery slope’’.
The RCGP (Royal College of General Practitioners) Council, after a lengthy consultation seeking the views of members, in which responses were overwhelmingly in favour of rejecting a change in the law, 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.’
The vast majority of calls for euthanasia and PAS 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.’
Philippa Taylor (CMF Head of Public Policy) 020 7234 9664
Steven Fouch (CMF Head of Communications) 020 7234 9668
Alistair Thompson on 07970 162 225
Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) was founded in 1949 and is an interdenominational organisation with over 4,000 British doctor members in all branches of medicine. A registered charity, it is linked to about 65 similar bodies in other countries throughout the world.
CMF exists to unite Christian doctors to pursue the highest ethical standards in Christian and professional life and to increase faith in Christ and acceptance of his ethical teaching.