“It’s the caring thing to do”
There’s a school of thought that says if you tell people something often enough and long enough, there’ll come a time when they believe it. Well, this certainly seems to be true of the drive to legalise assisted dying. Over the last few years we’ve been subjected to an unremitting campaign, played out in the media and with a seemingly ever increasing string of high profile celebrity supporters, calling for the ‘right’ to die of the terminally ill. And now the latest victims of this lemming like insanity are none other than two former Archbishops, George Carey and Desmond Tutu.
Both men say they now support assisted dying, George Carey because he has been persuaded by the plight of Tony Nicklinson, suffering from locked in syndrome, and Desmond Tutu, because he was appalled at the extreme efforts taken to prolong the life of his friend Nelson Mandela, long after the time he should have been allowed to die. They reinforce this apparent volte face by saying that if, as a society, we fail to help (i.e. kill) those nearing the end of their lives who face unbearable suffering, then we are lacking compassion.
For many, many reasons this emotional claptrap is not just wrong, but plain dangerous. First, neither case cited above would actually fall within the terms of the Bill presently under debate. In an attempt to answer critics, Lord Falconer’s proposed legislation, as currently drafted, is very strictly limited, calling for the legalization of physician assisted suicide only for patients medically assessed by two doctors as having less than six months to live. Where these criteria are fulfilled, then in line with the Oregon model on which this legislation is based, the Bill provides for patients to be given a prescription which they then have to take for themselves.
Whatever George Carey says, Tony Nicklinson was not terminally ill, and was never in this position.
That indeed was a large part of the problem because, though tragically imprisoned in his body, Mr Nicklinson’s life expectancy was not significantly diminished and he could have continued in the same state for years. Perhaps more to the point though, because of his condition, he would have been physically incapable of taking the medication. Which means that if this Bill had been law, on these three counts he would never have been able to take advantage of it. To achieve any kind of relevance, George Carey would therefore have immediately had to start campaigning for an extension of its provisions.
Nelson Mandela’s situation was, of course, different again. It would appear the former African President was not in undue pain, but his life was prolonged by ‘extraordinary’ measures designed specifically to keep him alive. Again, this is way beyond the scope of so-called assisted dying, because whatever the moving picture presented by Desmond Tutu, discontinuing unnecessary measures to prolong life is a far cry from administering poison with the specific intent of killing someone.
But more worryingly, the highly charged emotional rhetoric being spewed out ignores completely the countless numbers of ordinary men and women approaching the end of life who do not want to die prematurely, but who want, on the contrary, to savour every last moment and let nature take its course. Who want to stay till the end of the party.
We’re told of course that this Bill won’t apply to them, so the question will never arise, but that is misleading. Inevitably, should assisted dying become law, there will be pressure exerted on the elderly, vulnerable and disabled to choose the easier course. It’s not that their lives are of no value, they will be told, but the quality of that life is diminished – who would want to live in such circumstances? We already know from evidence in the Netherlands that euthanasia is becoming the preferred option for death, and is even being extended now to children, the disabled, and those suffering from depression. However it’s viewed, this is the beginning of a very slippery and uncomfortable slope.
In 1967, when the Abortion Bill was under debate, supporters argued that it was to deal with the horror of back street abortions, and that at most there would be only around 300 terminations a year. It too was put forward as the compassionate thing to do. They were wrong. Spectacularly so. Since the Abortion Bill became law, we have seen over 8 million abortions in the UK, which comes out as around 200,000 a year. A far cry from 300, on any reckoning.
The Bill to legalise assisted suicide is the beginning of a far wider campaign to legalise euthanasia, as admitted by such moral luminaries as Baroness Warnock, who has openly called for euthanasia, and is on record as saying she thinks the elderly have a duty to die.
It is well said that hard cases make for bad law, and we should pay heed. With the greatest respect, George Carey is a deeply sincere and well-meaning man, but on this occasion at least his compassion is misplaced. Worse, he is giving assistance to those activists who are playing a longer and infinitely more sinister game, and who will not stop till they get what they want. It is for this reason that this pernicious bill must be resolutely resisted.