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ss triple helix - autumn 2006,  Euthanasia. A License to kill? (Book Review)

Euthanasia. A License to kill? (Book Review)

Euthanasia. A License to kill? - Anthony M Smith - Kingsway 2006 - £6.99 Pb 175 pp - ISBN 1 84291 249 6

The assisted dying debate, fuelled by a succession of Bills put before the House of Lords by Lord Joffe, is not going to go away. It is an issue of huge importance, and has the potential to change the practice of medicine profoundly.Yet the debate is often superficial. Many in our churches, and indeed in medicine, appear uninformed and even confused about the issues.

Anthony Smith's book tackles a wide range of issues relating to assisted dying in a clear and logical way. The arguments for and against euthanasia are detailed, as well as the experience of legalised euthanasia overseas. Physician assisted suicide is given special mention, recognising that this is now the focus of the effort to change the law in the UK. The difference between euthanasia and the withdrawing and withholding of treatment, including food and fluids where appropriate, is clearly and helpfully explained, as are the benefits and potential pitfalls of advance directives. The positive alternative of palliative care, and the current limitations of its provision both in the UK and worldwide are also discussed.

The book is illustrated throughout with patient stories drawn from Dr Smith's long experience as a hospice physician.Wilfred is an elderly man with metastatic cancer whose son asks whether anything can be done to stop him suffering. Cheryl's dad has Alzheimer's, recently suffered a stroke and now has pneumonia. Should he be treated with antibiotics? The stories that have hit the headlines such as those of Tony Bland, Diane Pretty, Terry Schiavo and Harold Shipman are also described.

Aimed explicitly at the Christian reader, the book considers the biblical viewpoint on euthanasia. It also addresses the wider issues of suffering and hope from a Christian perspective. I found these sections particularly powerful. They encourage us to lift our eyes from the relatively narrow focus of assisted dying up to our loving Lord, who suffered on our behalf and provides strength for today and eternal hope for the future.

This is a concise and helpful book, taking only a couple of hours or so to read. It is accessible for a non-medical readership, but has much to offer health professionals as well, especially those with less experience than Dr Smith of caring for terminally ill patients. The book will equip Christians with a greater understanding of the issues around assisted dying, and enable us to engage more fully in the ongoing debate. It also encourages us to confront the issue of our own mortality both at a practical and spiritual level.

Reviewed by:
Claire Hookey
Medical Director of Douglas MacMillan Hospice, Stoke on Trent
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