Over the last ten years the British pro-euthanasia lobby has very effectively used high-profile 'hard cases' of motor neurone disease to champion its cause: Annie Lindsell, Reginald Crew, John Close and, most famously, Diane Pretty. She sought her husband's assistance in her suicide, and in 2002 took her case to the European Court, and lost.
The 2006 campaign to legalise assisted suicide was built around Dr Anne Turner, a Bath GP with progressive supranuclear palsy, who committed suicide at the Dignitas Clinic in Zurich, Switzerland on 24 January that year. The British Voluntary Euthanasia Society had interestingly rebranded itself as Dignity in Dying the day before Turner's death, and the second reading (debate stage) of Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill was planned for 12 May, the day after the fourth anniversary of Diane Pretty's death.
Lord Joffe's Bill was defeated by 148-100 in the House of Lords after a successful campaign led by the Care Not Killing Alliance, in which CMF played a key role. A new strategy soon emerged. Having had both euthanasia and assisted suicide blocked by parliament, the pro-euthanasia lobby now seems to be seeking to bring in euthanasia 'via the back door' through a combination of 'terminal sedation' and 'living wills'. As part of this they are encouraging supporters to write to Lord Hunt, the health minister, to establish a national electronic database of 'advance directives' and to register their own living wills with MedicAlert. The Mental Capacity Act, which introduces legally binding 'advance directives', comes into full force on 1 October.
The public face of this year's campaign has been Kelly Taylor, a 30-year-old Bristol woman with Eisenmenger's syndrome, who sought High Court permission to be sedated with morphine until unconscious, and then starved and dehydrated to death under an advance directive. Taylor dropped her action on 18 April after the High Court denied her an adjournment, but the case prompted letters from leading palliative medicine doctors to both national newspapers and the British Medical Journal. They pointed out that properly used, morphine does not hasten death and that its sedative effects wear off quickly, making it useless for sustaining unconsciousness. Rather than changing the law to allow the active ending of life by terminal sedation and dehydration, they commended Baroness Ilora Finlay's Palliative Care Bill, which seeks to improve access to good palliative care.
Christian doctors need to stay abreast of these issues – both by promoting palliative care, and by opposing any moves to weaken the law to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia. We should also pray that the Finlay Bill, which had an unopposed second reading in the House of Lords on 23 February, is granted the necessary parliamentary time to proceed.