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ss triple helix - spring 2014,  Euthanasia – New threats on the horizon

Euthanasia – New threats on the horizon

Review by Peter Saunders, CMF Chief Executive

With the recent decision by the Belgian government to allow euthanasia for children, the battle against legalised medical killing in Europe has sharply intensified. We will face two new parliamentary challenges in Britain this year.

Lord Falconer plans to table his Assisted Dying Bill (1) again in June 2014 (2). The House of Lords has rejected assisted suicide on a number of previous occasions, notably in 2006 (3) and 2009 (4). Falconer's current bill is not considered to be much different from Lord Joffe's, which was defeated 148-100 in 2006. It is based on the law currently in place in Oregon, and has been informed by his much-criticised Commission on Assisted Dying (5). It seeks to legalise assisted suicide for mentally competent adults with less than six months to live and employs a medical licensing system similar to that of the Abortion Act 1967. Changes in the composition of Britain's upper house following the last general election in 2010 make it a serious threat.

Independent MSP Margo Macdonald launched her Assisted Suicide (Scotland Bill) on 14 November 2013. It is currently being scrutinised by a parliamentary committee and will be debated in the Scottish Parliament in the autumn. It is wider in scope than Falconer's, allowing those with a 'terminal illness' or 'terminal condition' (but without specified life expectancy) to end their lives. Macdonald's last bill was defeated in Holyrood by a massive 85-16 in 2010 (7).

Doctors' groups have consistently been against legalising euthanasia on grounds that it is uncontrollable, unethical and unnecessary. Currently the British Medical Association, the Association for Palliative Medicine, the British Geriatric Society, the World Medical Association and the Royal Colleges of Physicians, General Practitioners and Surgeons of England oppose a change in the law.

In February this year the RCGP reaffirmed its opposition (8) when 77% of respondents to 'one of the most comprehensive consultations the College has ever undertaken' favoured no change in policy (9). The voices of Christian doctors will be decisive in defeating these two dangerous pieces of legislation.

  1. Assisted Dying Bill [HL] 2013-14
  2. Assisted Dying Bill takes a rest. BBC Online, 20 November 2013.
  3. Joffe Bill – one year on. Care Not Killing, 12 May 2007.
  4. Care Not Killing welcomes Lords' decision to reject assisted suicide amendment. Care Not Killing, 8 July 2009.
  5. Charles Falconer's bent jury – why we should not be surprised by their 'conclusions'. Care Not Killing, 3 January 2012.
  6. Scottish Bill launched.
  7. Overwhelming defeat. Care Not Killing, 2 December 2010.
  8. RCGP rejects assisted suicide. Care Not Killing, 21 February 2014.
  9. RCGP announces continued opposition to change in law on assisted dying. RCGP, 21 February 2014.
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