Thursday, December 30, 2004

UK Considers Bill to allow Physician-Assisted Suicide

The British House of Lords is currently considering a bill called the "Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill." If it becomes law, this bill would allow terminally ill people to request a physican-assisted suicide. The bill outlines nine safeguards that must be met before a physician can assist with a suicide. These are:
  • The patient must be over 18 years of age
  • The patient must be mentally competent (of sound mind)
  • The patient must have a terminal illness
  • The patient must make two oral requests to their doctor and one written request to die, all of which must be voluntary
  • There must be a 14-day waiting period for the patient to consider his or her decision
  • There must be a second opinion from another doctor
  • If there are concerns about a patient’s competency, they must be referred to a psychiatrist for an assessment
  • There must be two independent witnesses to the written request
  • The patient must be fully informed of all alternatives including a consultation with a palliative care expert
Should all these safeguards be met, a physician may then help a patient kill himself.

A poll released by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of England and Wales found that 80% of the respondents supported this bill.

Kevin Yuill, writing in Spiked, lists ten flaws in the arguments for assisted suicide, and there's far too much worth quoting, so I'll just suggest you go read it all. In arguing against the notion that those who oppose assisted suicide are just a small religious minority, Yuill says that he's an atheist. He writes "you need not be Christian to agree with the Archbishop of Canterbury that 'the respect for human life in all its stages is the foundation of a civilised society'."

He also passes along this chilling story:

It is true that many religious groups vehemently oppose the Joffe Bill, but they are not the only ones. They unite with medical representatives and disabled groups, who fear that doctors' judgements about 'quality of life' may imply that their own lives are not worth living.

This is no abstract fear voiced by philosophers such as Baroness Warnock, as Jane Campbell, writing recently in The Times (London), discovered. Campbell, who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, a muscle-wasting illness that means she cannot lift her head from her pillow unaided, was hospitalised for a case of pneumonia. The consultant treating her said that he assumed she would not want to be resuscitated should she go into respiratory failure. When she protested that she would like to be resuscitated, she was visited by a more senior consultant who said that he assumed she would not want to be put on a ventilator. According to the Disability Rights Commission, this was not was not an isolated incident. As Campbell says, these incidents 'reflect society's view that people such as myself live flawed and unsustainable lives and that death is preferable to living with a severe impairment.'

Yuill closes by saying:

So shall we project our own cramped and gloomy worldview on to those who are most sensitive to counsels of despair? Or shall we continue to view all human life as valuable, doctors as curers of physical disease (rather than prescribers of death for therapeutic reasons), and life as worth living?

File this right next to The Groningen Protocol as yet another sign that we're near the bottom of the slippery slope if not already there. The ultimate message of policies like these is that some lives aren't worth living. The UK may soon allow patients to make this decision for themselves. How long before an independent committee makes that decision (as is the case with the Groningen Protocol)?


At 1:10 AM, Blogger The Anchoress said...

This saddens me to read.


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