Current assisted suicide law working well, says MP

5 July 2019

MPs debated the law relating to assisted dying on Thursday. Nick Boles initiated the debate which included passionate speeches from both sides. The purpose of the debate was not to propose a new law on assisted dying, but to discuss the effect of the current law on individuals, families, doctors and carers. Do write to your MP to make your views known on this important subject.

The current law is working well

Fiona Bruce argued that the current law is working well.

“The small number of cases and rarity of prosecutions indicate that our law is an effective deterrent to those with malicious or self-interested motives and protects against the very real danger of the abuse of the disabled, sick, frail or elderly and the danger that they could feel pressured into ending their own lives.”

The example of Oregon

The law in Oregon was held up as an example for Britain to follow several times in the debate. Fiona Bruce said that medical assistance in dying, or MAID, is used to achieve euthanasia rather than assisted suicide in 99% of cases. MAID has been used for non-terminal illnesses, even in a case of arthritis. There are now proposals for it to be extended to so-called mature minors.

The safeguards in the original law are now regularly flouted. The ten-day reflection period is regularly shortened, and the requirement for two clinicians to give consent is rendered worthless by people approaching multiple clinicians until two who are willing to consent are obtained. Furthermore, there is no provision for conscientious objection by practitioners who increasingly feel obligated to go along with it. The much talked of safeguards are therefore not working in Canada.

Is medical opinion shifting? Fiona Bruce and Jim Shannon rightly criticised the controversial way in which the Royal College of Physicians changed to adopt a neutral stance on assisted suicide prior to a poll requiring a super-majority to maintain opposition to a change in the law. The largest number of those voting (43.4%) remained opposed to a change in the law, compared with only 25% who supported changing to a neutral position. In particular, 80% of palliative care physicians were opposed to a change in the law. Nevertheless, the RCP changed its position to neutrality which resulted in the chairman of the RCP’s ethics committee and two other members of the committee resigning.

Netherlands example

Sir Peter Bottomley pointed out that in the Netherlands, the number of physician-assisted deaths is 3.5%, which would translate to 21,000 deaths a year in this country. This is four times the number of suicides in the UK at present. Where assisted suicide has been legalised, there are clear trends for safeguards to be eroded, and pressure to increase on the weak and vulnerable.

Disability organisations opposed

Susan Elan Jones pointed out that the vast majority of disability organisations in this country remain opposed to assisted dying. This is because any change in the law would place pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives for fear of being a burden on others. Strong laws are required to protect the weak.

Contact your MP

Several MPs talked about stories or emails from their constituents in the debate. This shows how important it is to make your views known to your MP. Please take some time to write to your MP to explain why you disagree with any change in the law on assisted suicide and to encourage them to oppose any such proposed change. We need to protect the lives of the vulnerable and the integrity of the patient/doctor relationship.

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