Select Committee on Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by ALERT

  ALERT is an organisation funded only by donations from people in this country. The newsletter is circulated to about 700 people. It was founded in December 1991 to provide well-documented information on, and to warn people of, the dangers of euthanasia legislation and pro-death initiatives, and to defend the lives and rights of the medically vulnerable, recognising that all human beings are of equal value.



  "To enable a competent adult . . . to receive medical assistance to die . . ." "Assistance to die" is explained in Section 1, paragraph (2) as meaning providing the patient with the means to end the patient's life or ending the patient's life . . .

  Providing the patient with the means to end his/her life is formal co-operation in suicide, or indirect killing. Ending the patient's life is direct killing of a person. To kill, breaks the most basic principle or morality. To authorise killing of the innocent would be brutal, barbaric and uncivilised, and no supposed subsidiary good effect could possibly justify it. Medicine is the science and art dealing with the maintenance of health and the prevention, alleviation, or cure of disease (Webster's Medical Desk Dictionary 1986). Causing death is the antithesis of medicine. The phrase "Medical assistance to die" is therefore contradictory and meaningless. Section 1, paragraphs (1) and (2), however, state that it shall be lawful for a physician to "assist a patient. . . to die." The wrong would be aggravated by the fact that that it was carried out by a physician—one who has dedicated himself to the service of the life and health of his patients. The Bill would specifically destroy the security of the doctor/patient relationship and corrupt the profession of medicine.


  It is futile to discuss qualifying conditions, since there can be no safeguards against permitting an act which is intrinsically wrong and contrary to the duties of the caring professions. No amount of legislation can change the evil nature of the act. Medicine is an inexact science, and unless life is deliberately ended, the prognosis remains uncertain.


  Under this heading may be included the second section in the introductory paragraph of the Bill: "to make provision for a person suffering from a terminal illness to receive pain medication". Palliative care is a part of good medicine and all patients have a right to it. Free health care is available to all. It is already lawful for a doctor to give whatever medication is needed to control pain, even at the risk of shortening the life of the patient. We wonder why this superfluous clause has been inserted, and sees it as a red herring, to divert attention from the real issue.


  Any such declaration, as all suicidal intent, should be seen as a cry for help and not taken at face value and acted upon, since it is as intrinsically wrong. At present assisting suicide is a felony and rightly so, for although suicide itself is not punishable in British law, suicide can never be a right. It remains a gravely wrong and inhuman way of dealing with problems of life. For the House of Lords to ever suggest the opposite is a derogation of its duty to protect the rights of all citizens especially the vulnerable.


  This section in effect adds a compulsory aspect to the legislation in overriding a physician's conscience. To follow his conscience is the first duty of any moral individual and a good conscience is essential to the practice of medicine. If laws are immoral it becomes a duty to disobey them. Such a clause makes the Bill all the more harmful, in presenting as a duty what is by nature reprehensible. Dr Shipman's actions were universally condemned, and to suggest that doctors may act in this manner, albeit with the consent of the patient, will change forever the face of British medicine.

6.  SECTIONS 8 TO 14

  We did not see any point in discussing these proposed regulations since, as stated above, no amount of legislation can change the evil nature of the act.


  The concept of assisted suicide is abhorrent. We would rather see the House of Lords discussing the development of care services for the aged and the seriously ill.


  We quote William L. Shirer, who interviewed a Nazi judge condemned to death at the Nuremberg trials. The judge broke down and cried saying "How could it have come to this?" William Shirer responded: "Herr Judge, it came to this the first time you authorised the killing of an innocent life."


  ALERT is astounded that 10 years after the Select Committee on Medical Ethics of the House of Lords decided that euthanasia was unacceptable, such a Bill should have serious consideration.


  We would be pleased to be invited to give oral evidence to the Select Committee.

  We attach a paper on the case of Michael P Freeland demonstrating the confusion in evaluating suicidal patients with serious medical illnesses in the climate of the legislation in Oregon.

27 August 2004

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