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Britain's euthanasia bill faces mounting opposition

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 Contents - Sep 2014AD2000 September 2014 - Buy a copy now
Editorial: Don't pigeon-hole Pope Francis - Peter Westmore
Vatican: Cardinal Pell unveils Vatican financial reforms - Edward Pentin
News: The Church Around the World
Euthanasia: Britain's euthanasia bill faces mounting opposition
Facing up to the problem of sexual abuse - Anne Lastman
Is the US vocations crisis finally over? - Fr Dwight Longenecker
Pope meets Meriam Ibrahim
Association of Hebrew Catholics: its role and mission - Andrew Sholl
Art: The new mural in Sacred Heart Church, Griffith, NSW - Tommy Canning
Christian witness in a secular world - Fr Paul Rowse OP
Students: ACSA Conference: 'an inspiring experience' - Br Barry Coldrey
Transmission of the Catholic faith in crisis - Peter Finlayson
Letters: Fifth Commandment! - Richard Congram
Letters: Sola Scriptura - Cedric Wright
Books: A CIVILISED DEBATE ABOUT RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, by Arnold Guminski & Brian Harrison - John Young (reviewer)
Books: ON HEAVEN AND EARTH: Pope Francis on Faith, Family and the Church in the 21st C - Br Barry Coldrey (reviewer)
Books: JOURNAL OF A SOUL (John XXIII) and POPE JOHN, BLESSED JOHN XXIII - Br Barry Coldrey (reviewer)
Books: Order books from
Reflection: The Christian life: more than Trivial Pursuit or Monopoly - Audrey English

A British hereditary peer, Lord Falconer, has introduced legislation in the House of Lords to allow people in the last six months of life to kill themselves with a lethal dose of drugs prepared by a medical practitionner. The legislation has provoked fierce controversy in Britain, and a long debate in parliament.

This analysis was prepared by the Dignitatis Humanae Institute in mid-July 2014.

Despite Lord Falconer's assisted suicide bill formally progressing to its committee stage, the overwhelming multitude of reasons against the introduction of assisted dying into British law were laid bare in yesterday's ten hour debate in the House of Lords.

This latest attempt to legalise assisted suicide, instigated by an unelected peer without the support of the government, brought together an unlikely coalition of resistance from across the political spectrum.

The Guardian editorial warned: "Reshaping the moral landscape is no alternative to cherishing life and the living", while the Telegraph asserted: "The more assisted dying is discussed, the more its risks will become apparent".

The risks alluded to have indeed become more apparent in recent weeks, with Professor Theo Boer, formally a leading advocate of legalising euthanasia in the Netherlands, reversing his position.

Citing the yearly increase of 15% in assisted deaths since 2008, Professor Boer warned that euthanasia was "on the way to becoming a default mode of dying for cancer patients". Furthermore, while all euthanasia laws originally claim to be limited and restrictive, a pattern of incrementalism quickly emerges to the point where in Holland a woman going blind is reason enough for death or in Belgium where disabled children are considered not worthy of life.

This evident strategy of euthanasia supporters to fully legalise it through incremental steps was exposed in the debate by Lord Alton of Liverpool, recalling that in 2011 Lord Falconer had stopped short of advocating assisted dying for non-terminally ill disabled people "at this point in time", to which Lord Alton posed the question, "At what point in time will it be right to offer to end the lives of people with disabilities? How long will it be before it becomes expected?"

This was not the only discrepancy found in the motives of Lord Falconer and advocates of assisted suicide.

Before the debate, the tragic case of Tony Nicklinson, who suffered from "locked-in syndrome" and wanted to die, was used as the primary motivation for bringing the case for assisted suicide before Parliament.

Yet under Lord Falconer's own bill, Mr Nicklinson would never have been eligible, as he was not terminally ill and lacked the ability to self-administer a lethal dose.

The case against assisted-suicide from a healthcare perspective was put forward by Lord Ribeiro, a retired surgeon, who cited the opposition to legalisation from the Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the British Medical Association: "[The] Assisted Dying Bill would fundamentally alter the role of the doctor-patient relationship.

"Doctors should preserve and improve life.

"If they are also involved in taking life, a damaging conflict of interest will occur, which patients will not understand ... there is a danger that a right to die may become a responsibility to die, making vulnerable people more vulnerable."

A powerful intervention in the debate came from Baroness Campbell, who was born with severe spinal muscular atrophy. Speaking with the assistance of a ventilator, she said that in moments of despair, she might be tempted to ask for assisted dying, and if the law changed, doctors would not stop her.

She told peers: "It frightens me because in periods of greatest difficulty I know I might be tempted to use it. It only adds to the burdens and challenges life holds for me."

The inevitable consequence of patients feeling as a burden upon their families and the health system has been evident from the findings of Washington State where 61% of those who have received lethal drugs cited the fear of being a burden upon others as their reason for seeking death.

This concern was reiterated by the Secretary of State for Health, the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt, who stated in a letter to a constituent: "I am concerned it devalues the life of people with permanent disabilities and could inadvertently put pressure on people who worry they are a 'burden' to their families." In addition to the Health Secretary, the Prime Minister has also expressed his own concerns that any legalisation might lead to "[people being] pushed into things that they don't actually want for themselves". It is now considered highly unlikely that Lord Falconer's bill will receive the time or support needed in the lower chamber to pass the bill into law.

Following the debate, Luca Volontè, chairman of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute stated:

"Supporters of euthanasia often imply they have the monopoly on compassion, yet the true meaning of the Latin word compassio means to 'suffer with' not to 'end out of pity'.

"This is clearly the understanding of the health sector in the UK, who have overwhelmingly rejected this push towards assisted suicide, something in which, as healthcare practitioners, they would be forced to be complicit.

"The Dignitatis Humanae Institute affirms to holding as sacred both the dignity of each individual person and the gift of human life, the irreversible consequence of this bill would be to place a valuation on the worthiness of each life according to physical and mental ideals; under such a regime, the old, the ill, the disabled and the most vulnerable will suffer the most."

The Institute aims to uphold human dignity based on the anthropological truth that man is born in the image and likeness of God and therefore has an innate human dignity of infinite worth to be upheld.

The Institute promotes this understanding by supporting Christians in public life, assisting them to present effective and coherent responses to increasing efforts to silence the Christian voice in the public square.

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Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 27 No 8 (September 2014), p. 6

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