Select Committee on Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill Written Evidence

Letter from Dr Louise Gibbs, Dr Emma Hall, Dr Victor Pace, Dr Debra Swann and Dr Nigel Sykes, Consultants in Palliative Medicine, St Christopher's Hospice, London

  We write in support of the submission to the Select Committee from the Association of Palliative Medicine, of which we are all members. As consultants in palliative medicine we jointly care for over 1,800 terminally ill people each year either in their own homes or in the Hospice wards. In our view the Association has produced an excellent summary of the key issues that relate to the Bill's provisions and we fully endorse its clear opposition to the legalisation of physician assisted suicide or euthanasia. Among the submission's many well-taken points we would like to emphasise the following:

    —  Legalisation of euthanasia/assisted suicide is likely to jeopardise the vulnerable. As the submission explains this is partly because of the sense of burden many terminally ill people feel, that may impel them to offer themselves for euthanasia, once available, as the "decent thing" to do for the sake of their families. It is also because once precipitating death has been declared a moral good by being legalised in certain circumstances those circumstances will inevitably, through a process of attitudinal shift, be widened to include others, particularly the incompetent. Involuntary euthanasia will speedily become a reality and euthanasia will become the alternative to good care for an increasing range of conditions. Additionally, should a request for euthanasia become a ticket to a palliative care bed this will distort clinical priorities and potentially deny needy people the care they deserve.

    —  While approving of the inclusion in the draft Bill of a conscience clause for doctors who feel unable to take part in assisted suicide/euthanasia, we deprecate the legal requirement for such doctors to refer such patients to another doctor without similar scruples. This amounts to forced complicity in the euthanasia/assisted suicide process and would be an unjust and intolerable imposition upon the doctors concerned.

12 August 2004

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