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Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill - A dangerous document that Christian doctors should oppose

Summer 2003

From triple helix - Summer 2003 - Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill - A dangerous document that Christian doctors should oppose [p3]

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A new Bill attempting to legalise Dutch-style euthanasia throughout Britain is making its way through the House of Lords. Lord Joffe's Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill[1] passed its second reading on 6 June without a vote, and now goes to the committee stage, where it can be amended and revised before returning for a third reading and final vote probably this autumn. If it traverses the House of Lords it then faces the much easier challenge of three readings in the Commons before becoming law. The Bill seeks to legalise euthanasia for any patient with an 'irremediable condition' (defined as 'a terminal or serious physical illness') with 'unbearable suffering' (as defined by the patient) provided that two doctors can confirm that the patient is of sound mind and has made the request voluntarily. If passed it would open the floodgates to euthanasia in this country given the current climate of favourable public opinion, some willing doctors, and many patients already feeling a burden to relatives, carers and society at large.

Requests for voluntary euthanasia are rarely free and voluntary, and in fact extremely rare when patients' physical, psychological and spiritual needs are properly met. CMF has consistently opposed euthanasia on the grounds that it is unnecessary (because alternative treatments exist), dangerous (because of the slippery slope) and morally wrong (contrary to all historically accepted codes of medical ethics and the Judeo-Christian ethic). We can be encouraged from the House of Lords debate that the Bill has drawn together a strong opposing coalition consisting of people who would not normally be on the same side in other bioethical debates, especially those concerning the beginning of life: Lord Alton and the All-Party Parliamentary Prolife Group, Archbishop Rowan Williams, Broadcaster Robert Winstone and Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford.

It is noteworthy that a House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics in 1994 opposed any change in the law to allow euthanasia after an extensive enquiry and 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.' They 'were also concerned that vulnerable people - the elderly, lonely, sick or distressed - would feel pressure, whether real or imagined, to request early death.' We need to pray that this wisdom continues to prevail.

Christian doctors are encouraged to write to individual House of Lords members, encouraging them to oppose the Bill, at House of Lords, London, SW1A 0PW. A full list of members, along with instructions on how to address them is available on the internet.[2]

Article written by Peter Saunders

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