The Times reports that Lord Joffe is planning to reintroduce his 2006 Bill into Parliament. These were four points I used to defend the view that Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) is a bad thing. I’ve not changed my mind.
1. PAS will undeniably lead to the deliberate killing of human life.
The 2006 Bill proposed by Lord Joffe allowed an ‘innocent’ life to be taken. It therefore contravenes the biblical prohibition against murder. British Law ought to protect the vulnerable and provide a framework for acceptable behaviour. But proposed legislation will not inhibit sin but encourage it by making it legal to help in the suicide of another or to actively bring to an end the life of a patient.
2. PAS will undoubtedly lead to incremental extension.
It’s been argued that PAS will lead to voluntary euthanasia since there will be cases where the Doctor will ‘complete the job‘ without fear of prosecution. There’s also indication that voluntary euthanasia will also lead on to compulsory euthanasia. And so passing a law to allow this would have implications for all terminally ill people across the UK. This can be seen in Holland, where the law allows voluntary euthanasia under strict guidelines. Yet these guidelines are often ignored and studies have shown that euthanasia is occasionally carried out without even consulting the patient, who had been mentally competent. Official statistics show that in 20001 there were 4,664 cases of medical intervention to shorten life. Yet of these there was no explicit request from the patient for euthanasia in 938 cases (20%).
3. PAS will probably lead to the abusive manipulation of others.
It’s hard to prove that people have been manipulated into choosing PAS or euthanasia since by definition the key witness is dead! However, this legislation does nothing to protect the vulnerable but instead makes it easier for people who feel uncertain about whether their lives are worth living to be pressured into terminating their lives prematurely. The ‘right to die’ could easily become the ‘duty to die’ for those who felt themselves to be a burden to others. Facing such an obligation they might find it easier to request an early death.
4. PAS will inevitably lead to a change in the Doctor Patient relationship.
Doctors will in effect no longer be carers with cure as their ambition, but potential killers. [The Hippocratic Oath states, ‘I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgement and never do harm to anyone. To please no one will I prescribe a deadly drug nor give advice, which may cause his death’]. PAS has a failure rate. Some patients vomit, while others through tolerance acquired from previous medication fail to die despite large doses of drugs. In these situations it will be the Doctor who will be required to administer the fatal dose. This is perhaps why the overwhelming majority of Doctors are against any change in the current legislation. In a survey carried out in 2006, 69% of Doctors polled thought that PAS and/or Euthanasia was unnecessary.