Perhaps in part because of the dwindling birth rates and a steadily ageing and costly population, it is customary now in Britain for the subject of active euthanasia to be revisited every year. Charles (Lord) Falconer is at it again seeking to legalise medical complicity in homicide. The subject comes before Parliament today.
Notwithstanding the horrific findings of widespread non-consensual sedation and dehydration in UK’s hospitals, hospices and care homes and the Neuberger Review confirming the catastrophe, Falconer is seeking to open up new ways of eliminating the disabled, depressed, old and vulnerable.
A letter organised by Terence English, patron of Dignity in Dying, is being supported by 27 public figures including Richard Thompson, president of the Royal College of Physicians, Michael Rawlins, former chair of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and Graham Winyard, a former NHS director.
It is argued that the bill would allow adults in England and Wales with less than six months to live a choice to receive a lethal injection, or poisons, to end their life. Two medics would confirm the patient, like all of us, was due to die and give assurances that the patient satisfied certain ‘eligibility crieria’ and that the decision was informed, voluntary and consensual. One of the two doctors would then become complicit in what is now still one of the most serious crimes in English law.
Medical complicity in homicide is promoted as new, modern and autonomy-enhancing. It is, however, none of these things.
Poisons are ancient. States that have introduced it have demonstrably slid down the predictable slippery slope with babies, children, depressed and socially excluded individuals made subject to medically induced death. The practice is far from autonomous since there is no question that many who receive it have not asked for it.
Among those killed recently in Belgium and Holland are the very young, the depressed, the elderly non-dying, anxious transgenders, prisoners and babies. Promises of informed, voluntary consent are far from accurate. A baby is not acting voluntarily and the seriously depressed are far from voluntary agents. The dangers of legalizing medical homicide in an already ageing UK whose first concerns are cost-cutting, cannot be overstated.
In countries that have legalized medical homicide, the financial, medical and political interests that there are in killing people are blindingly obvious. Not only does hospital, nursing home and insurance cost-cutting figure as an institutional motive for homicide, so too do improper inheritance concerns, simple inconvenience and tissue harvesting. Political reasons for eliminating individuals (e.g. political dissent) and whole populations (warfare) should not be discounted. History reveals that medical homicide is invariably put to these ends.
Given the interests that there are in disposing of people and the dangers to the vulnerable of legalizing homicide an offence that otherwise attracts the most serious penalties, a Royal Commission into the subject is now necessary. In this the current archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is surely right. Not only is Falconer’s bill “mistaken and dangerous” the race to eliminate the most vulnerable at time of national cost-cutting must give government pause.
The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and Royal College of GPs (RCGP) are both opposed to medical complicity in homicide whether by active euthanasia or assisted dying. Disability rights groups point out the dangers that it presents to the disabled are enormous given that the practice of euthanasia is only open to those satisfying certain eligibility criteria, invariably including disability.
And it is this that is so offensive about active euthanasia. Homicide is predicated on a highly discriminatory decision about the value of a person’s life. Those who promote it have already told us what they think about the chronically ill, old and depressed.
Medical homicide erodes respect for human life. Recognition of the intrinsic and equal dignity of human life underlies any plain reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. Both international instruments emerged after a period in history that saw the enactment of laws and regulations once thought progressive but which merely institutionalised gross human rights abuse.
Legalized medical homicide whether by active euthanasia or medically assisted suicide, underestimates human weakness of will. Legalize an activity ‘X’ and X will soon become an opportunity for business and industry, never mind the multitudinous reasons people have for killing one another. In an environment in which euthanasia is legal, mercy will be the catchcry of the homicidal.
The World Medical Association (Resolution on Euthanasia Adopted General Assembly 2002) condemns euthanasia whether by lethal injection or by medically assisted suicide, and urges all domestic medical associations to refrain from complicity in such practice, even if domestic law professes to legalise it. The Hippocratic Oath rejects it. All the great sacred traditions of the world repudiate it not merely as a danger to the vulnerable, a threat to the practitioner and an unstoppable lethal juggernaut, but as a violation of the sanctity of life. Britain can rest assured that while it proceeds down this shameful homicidal and potentially genocidal path, the same will not be true of most of the world.
It was in 1936 that the Lords rejected active euthanasia while Germany proceeded with Aktion T4, its own progressivist euthanasia programme. Given the West’s serious political and demographic problems, Britain must take time to reconsider the dangers to her life blood that this measure introduces.
Jacqueline Laing teaches Jurisprudence, Criminal Law and Law and Religion at London Metropolitan University. This article has been republished with permission from her website, Jurisprudence and Applied Philosophy.