Here is the latest update from the British “Care Not Killing Alliance” about recent developments with euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Court of Appeal
From 13-15 May, three of England’s top judges heard the appeals of Nicklinson, Lamb and ‘Martin’; Paul Lamb joined the case after the death of Tony Nicklinson, whose widow Jane remains a party to the case. The Lord Chief Justice told the appellants that ‘we are acutely aware of the desperate situation in which the appellants find themselves and we are very sympathetic. But we know, and they surely know, that we cannot decide this case as a matter of personal sympathy. We have to decide it as a point of law’.
Media interest in the case has allowed many members of the general public to hear from disability rights campaigners Katherine Araniello, Dr. Kevin Fitzpatrick and Dr. Colin Harte, who spoke eloquently about the risks posed to vulnerable people – notably disabled people – by a change in the law. Media coverage allowed our spokespeople to confront advocates with the unsettling facts of what legalisation would mean–summed up by discussion of the Groningen Protocol, which allows disabled babies in the Netherlands to be euthanised, in a heated Radio Fivelive exchange. It is crucially important that the dangerous reality of incremental extension not be allowed to be swept under the carpet, but exposed to public view.
Lord Falconer’s Bill
On the final day of the Court of Appeal hearing, Lord Falconer tabled [introduced] his ‘Assisted Dying Bill’ in the House of Lords. The first reading received virtually no press attention, and there is no date yet scheduled for second reading. The bill is the successor to Lord Joffe’s failed attempt in 2006 and Lord Falconer’s own failed previous attempt in 2009, and the Labour Peer is now seeking to use the findings of his stacked ‘commission’ to justify a third attempt, despite the continued opposition of those who would be directly affected by such legislation – doctors and disabled people – as well as his democratically elected colleagues in the House of Commons.
Legislation around the world
Evidence of how dangerous euthanasia and assisted suicide laws are for those who are most vulnerable continues to pour out of countries like Belgium – where euthanasia deaths increased by 25% in just one year – and Oregon – where suicide contagion has been proven by the daunting escalation in non physician assisted suicide rates since legalisation.
New South Wales in Australia and the U.S. state of Maine have both decidedly rejected bills that would have permitted (respectively) euthanasia and assisted suicide in recent weeks, and Irish Taoiseach [Prime Minister] Enda Kenny has ruled out assisted suicide legislation in the light of the Fleming Supreme Court ruling. The U.S. state of Vermont has, however, passed a law permitting physician assisted suicide, and becomes the first US state to pass such a law through its legislature. The law is based on that of Oregon, but with fewer ‘safeguards’ which will in any case expire after three years to be replaced by codes developed by doctors themselves. Quebec, meanwhile, has announced a euthanasia bill for the Canadian province, and Belgium has also moved one step closer to extending euthanasia to children.
The majority of the professional medical bodies have been strongly opposed to any change in the law which would change the nature of medicine, and the vast majority of individual medics across the board support this stance. The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has announced a consultation on assisted suicide, having last opened up the issue six years ago, and while we remain assured that the daily experience of GPs leaves them firmly opposed to any weakening of the law, we welcome an opportunity for practitioners to publicly reaffirm their stance. The consultation is restricted to members of the RCGP, who we would be delighted to hear from and to discuss the recent developments with.
The British Medical Association (BMA) saw attempts by advocates for change to press a neutral stance at last year’s Annual Representative Meeting which was decisively rejected, and while we are glad that emerging end of life issues such as the Liverpool Care Pathway have been given priority at this year’s ARM, we are pleased that the other important issues for the practice of medicine are unlikely to be sidelined due to further efforts by a determined minority so soon after the BMA last upheld its stance.
Liverpool Care Pathway
Lady Neuberger and her panel of experts have concluded oral evidence sessions, and are now considering the input from these, alongside written submissions and the findings of parallel inquiries. Care Minister Norman Lamb has announced that the Neuberger Inquiry will report in July, and we await its findings, hopeful that these will reflect the recommendations of our own submission.
Editor’s note. Care Not Killing is a mainstream UK-based alliance of over 40 organisations and thousands of individuals which campaigns for better care and support for those who are sick, disabled and dying and against any weakening of the law to allow euthanasia or assisted suicide. The Alliance works in Parliament and in the courts and with health professionals, carers, general public and media.