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Assisted living vs. assisted dying

The Assisted Dying Bill has passed its second reading in the House of Lords, and will now be given further detailed consideration.

Giles Fraser’s arguments often (at least as far as I’m concerned) have the opposite effect to that intended.  His post on male circumcision brought out my inner intactivist, and his recent provocative and lurid tweet on the Assisted Dying Bill sparked a sympathetic reflex on behalf of those who support Lord Falconer’s controversial bill.

“If 18 year old girl says “I have failed my A levels and want to die” is it morally permissible for her boyfriend to cut her throat?”

Talk about straw men.

No one would support ‘assisted dying’ in such a scenario, and there are powerful arguments that the bill would lessen suffering and provide people with more control and choice.  But on this issue I am in agreement with David Cameron:

“I am very happy for a debate to be held here and of course there are now opportunities for backbenchers to hold debates in the chamber and I am sure the new leader of the House of Commons who I am sure we all want to welcome to his place, will be listening carefully to that request,” he said.

“For myself I am not convinced that further steps need to be taken, I worry about legalising euthanasia and people might be being pushed into things that they don’t actually want for themselves, but by all means let’s have the debate.”

Once such a step seems to be condoned by the state, no matter how many sensible caveats and precautions are included, it may have the effect of shifting how both the ill and the elderly, and those who care for them, view end of life care.  The bill requires that the patient cannot reasonably be expected to live for more than six months, but such diagnoses are often unreliable.

Although I’m an atheist, I thought this Catholic perspective on the issue raised some important points.

“Yes, there are determined people who are serious about wanting assistance to end their lives prematurely and who may feel frustrated that the law will not allow them to have it. But there are many more seriously ill people who are ambivalent, who move from hope to despair and back again, who are afraid of what they future may bring or who are worried about the burden that their illness is imposing on the families. It is to protect people like this, as much from themselves as from others, that we have laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide.”

If this bill passes, if the principle becomes accepted, other steps may start to seem less unthinkable – Baroness Warnock’s proposals on dementia, for example.  Back in 2008 she suggested that sufferers should be ‘put down’.

“But in her latest interview, given to the Church of Scotland’s magazine Life and Work, Lady Warnock goes further by claiming that dementia sufferers should consider ending their lives through euthanasia because of the strain they put on their families and public services.

Recent figures show there are 700,000 people with degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s in Britain. By 2026 experts predict there will be one million dementia sufferers in the country, costing the NHS an estimated £35billion a year.

Lady Warnock said: “If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.”

I’m not viscerally hostile to supporters of this well-intentioned bill; it’s clearly driven by humane and thoughtful motives. But tough cases make bad law – and, on balance, I hope the status quo is retained on this issue.