By Dr. Peter Saunders
Editor’s note. Dr. Saunders is a former general surgeon and is CEO of Christian Medical Fellowship, a UK-based organization with 4,500 UK doctors and 1,000 medical students as members.
There is really something quite chilling about seeing the Care Minister backing assisted suicide as a treatment option for disabled and elderly people.
But that is exactly what Liberal Democrat Minister Norman Lamb, the cabinet member responsible for providing care for dementia and other serious disabilities, has done today.
It is bitterly ironic that he has spoken out on the very day that the CEOs of four major charities representing elderly and disabled people have written to members of the House of Lords warning about the dangers of passing Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill and one day before disabled people’s representatives take to the streets of Westminster and the airwaves of the nation to protest.
Falconer’s bill is no less than a recipe for the abuse of elderly and disabled people.
In Washington, where assisted suicide is legal under a law very similar to that proposed by Falconer, 61% of people opting for assisted suicide give the fear of being a burden to family, relatives and caregivers as a key reason.
The pressure people will feel to end their lives if assisted suicide or euthanasia is legalised will be greatly accentuated at this time of economic recession with families and health budgets under pressure. It will quite simply steer them toward suicide.
Elder abuse and neglect by families, carers and institutions are real and dangerous and this is why strong laws are necessary.
Any change in the law to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia would place pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives for fear of being a financial, emotional or care burden upon others. This would especially affect people who are disabled, elderly, sick or depressed.
Parliament has rightly rejected the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia in Britain three times since 2006 out of concern for public safety –in the House of Lords (2006 and 2009) and in Scotland (2010)–and repeated extensive enquiries have concluded that a change in the law is not necessary.
All major disability rights groups in Britain (including Disability Rights UK, SCOPE, UKDPC and Not Dead Yet UK) oppose any change in the law believing it will lead to increased prejudice towards them and increased pressure on them to end their lives.
Persistent requests for euthanasia are extremely rare if people are properly cared for so our priority must be to ensure that good care addressing people’s physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs is accessible to all.
The present law making assisted suicide and euthanasia illegal is clear and right and does not need changing. The penalties it holds in reserve act as a strong deterrent to exploitation and abuse whilst giving discretion to prosecutors and judges in hard cases.
Hard cases make bad law. Even in a free democratic society there are limits to human freedom and the law must not be changed to accommodate the wishes of a small number of desperate and determined people.
Norman Lamb risks taking Britain down the Dutch and Belgian route where assisted suicide is seen as a cheap treatment option for people with dementia.
The mark of a civilised society and the first function of government is not to give liberties to the desperate and determined but to protect the weak and vulnerable.
Editor’s note. This appeared on Dr. Saunders blog.