On 15th June, the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) announced that it would no longer oppose assisted dying, but would officially adopt a neutral stance, bringing it into line with the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Nursing, all of which bodies in the last few years have, by implication, aligned themselves with activist groups calling for what they inappropriately label ‘reform’.
In a Press release euphorically issued by Dignity in Dying (https://www.dignityindying.org.uk/news/royal-college-of-surgeons-drops-opposition -to-assisted-dying-as-survey-finds-majority-of-members-support-law-change/#:~:text= The%20Royal%20College%20of%20Surgeons,to%20adopt%20a%20neutral%20position), Professor Sir John Graham-Temple, former president of the RCS, is quoted as saying, ‘While the views of the medical profession are an important part of this debate, doctors should not dictate to society the choices that people are able to make about their own lives and deaths. We must listen to and respect the wishes of those we treat …’
This general statement is fine so far as it goes, especially if coupled with adherence to the law, but this is something that the medical profession at the moment is signally failing to do. As highlighted in a recent report by the Lords and Commons Family and Child Protection Group, When End of Life Care Goes Wrong, too many of the elderly and vulnerable who are admitted to hospital – sometimes for relatively trivial complaints, such as constipation – find themselves inappropriately and prematurely placed on an end of life care plan. Though in theory designed to give a patient the best end of life care that they and their family would choose, in practice assessment all too often becomes a tick box exercise, leading to the prescription of treatment all too often imposed without the patient’s agreement or even knowledge, and designed to bring about death.
But there is more. Many patients aged 60+ routinely have a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order attached to their notes – on the flimsiest of grounds that should, God forbid, something happen (such as a heart attack), they would not wish to endure the pain and discomfort of resuscitation. Sounds perhaps reasonable, but what many of the public don’t know is that DNR orders, once triggered, are accompanied by a cessation of medication and the total withdrawal of food and hydration. Which can hold good, even when the patient is begging for a drink. At the same time, drugs such as midazolam and morphine – both useful drugs, correctly prescribed – are inappropriately and unnecessarily administered, with the sole aim of rendering the patient comatose, and hastening death.
In other words, and to put it bluntly, a frightening number of patients being admitted to hospital are already being subjected to managed death, despite the fact such treatment is currently prohibited under UK law and is liable to criminal prosecution.
All of us, I imagine, hope for a ‘good’ death, with minimal pain and our loved ones gathered round to say goodbye. Campaigners for assisted suicide would add that those suffering from terminal illness, in what they claim is unbearable pain, must have the right to choose for themselves the time and manner of their death, further arguing that they have the support of 84% of the British public, similarly calling for change.
But, if the figure quoted is accurate, how far can it be trusted? How much do the British public really understand what’s at stake?
In recent years there has been unremitting pressure in the media to legalise assisted dying, and it’s without question that you would have to have a heart of stone to force someone to endure unnecessary pain. But the arguments put forward by euthanasia campaigners distort what for many is the reality of approaching death. Palliative care in the UK is amongst the best in the world, and it is expressly designed to minimise suffering. But infinitely worse is the wilful and shocking disregard of evidenced coercion of those who actually want to live, and who are being denied the right to die ‘naturally’, in accordance with their wishes.
If assisted suicide for those judged to be in the last months of life should become legal, we already know from the evidence of places such as Canada (https://apnews.com/article/covid-science-health-toronto-7c631558a457188d2bd2b5cfd360a867), Belgium, and the Netherlands that it will be but a short step from there to the mandated killing of the mentally ill and depressed – those in fact who simply feel they can no longer go on. And on current evidence, even children will become subject to this legalised culling (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2023/apr/14/netherlands-to-broaden-euthanasia-rules-to-cover-children-of-all-ages ). Is this really what we want to endorse as a society – the tidying away of those not actively contributing to what we perceive as the general good? The removal of those draining our resources?
Sounds unbelievable perhaps, but, as sure as night follows day, this will happen, because as we’re seeing in reports from Canada and the US, with medical costs for treatment now so high, insurers are already refusing to fund medication and offering instead to provide medical assistance in dying (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11135637/Canadian-veteran-offered-EUTHANASIA-called-Veteran-Affairs-Canada-hotline-help.html).
With many hospitals in the UK already making value judgments as to whether or not someone’s life is worth preserving, where would the proposed reforms, being endorsed by implication by the RCS, leave us? At the very least such a position is a betrayal of the Hippocratic oath – not actually sworn by doctors today, of course, but handed down from antiquity – to prescribe only beneficial treatments and to refrain from causing harm or hurt. But infinitely worse, such an approach denies the respect, dignity and care towards others mandated by God.
Since the publication of the LCFCPG Report When End of Life Care Goes Wrong, the number of complaints from those whose loved ones have prematurely and inappropriately died following admission to hospital, has literally sky rocketed. Coming up to around 900 at the last count, and rising daily – the tip of a very large iceberg. It is no exaggeration to say that people in this country are becoming terrified of going into hospital.
So, given the display of such horrifying inhumanity towards those who cannot defend themselves, the question must be asked – what are the Royal Colleges really saying, when they state they are going to adopt a neutral position towards ‘assisted’ death? Do they really mean people must be allowed to choose for themselves whether they live or die – or do they rather mean that, in these days of over-stretched resources, they will sanction the legalised killing of those regarded as not contributing to the general good?
This article, by Lynda, first appeared in Christian Today, and is reproduced with permission.