Fearful Elderly People Carry Anti-Euthenasia Cards
Kevin Fitzpatrick, a researcher with the pressure group Not Dead Yet, claimed that relaxing the law in this country would threaten old and disabled people as it would allow “moral judgments” that their lives were not worth living.
He said it is “nonsensical” to say that we all have a right to die, when what is really being sought is the right to a premature death that is not sought by all in society.
But a former professor of geriatric medicine, Raymond Tallis, also writing online in the BMJ, argues that countries which have legalised assisted dying have neither seen trust in medics eroded nor the procedure imposed on vulnerable people.
The debate comes amid an increasingly high-profile campaign in Britain to decriminalise assisted suicide. A court victory last year forced the Director of Public Prosecutions to admit that individuals would not be prosecuted for helping terminally ill loved ones die in most cases, and in recent months a series of public figures including Ian McEwan, Chris Broad and Sir Terry Pratchett have spoken out in favour of the law being relaxed still further.
But charities and groups supporting disabled people and the elderly fear that any change in the law would leave them feeling under pressure to end their lives.
In an article published on BMJ.com on Friday, Mr Fitzpatrick wrote: “Disabled people, like others, and often with more reason, need to feel safe. Thus eroding what may already be a shaky sense of safety in medical care poses a further threat to disabled people’s wellbeing, continuing care, and life itself.”
He cited the experience of Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, the disabled founder of Not Dead Yet, who was once told by doctors that they “presumed” she wouldn’t want resuscitation if she experienced complications during treatment.
“Very scared, she stayed awake in hospital for more than 48 hours.”
Mr Fitzpatrick said: “The doctors’ judgment, based on the idea of a “life not worth living,” is a moral judgment not of facts (medical or otherwise).
“A law permitting euthanasia would reinforce this position, further clearing the ground to take away lives based on a moral judgment rather than medical fact. The threat will extend to the lives of older, disabled people too.”
He mentioned the comments of Lord McColl made in the House of Lords that in the Netherlands, where euthanasia has been officially legalised and regulated since 2002, doctors found the cases increasingly easy to carry out while “many elderly people in the Netherlands are so fearful of euthanasia that they carry cards around with them saying that they do not want it”.
This was a reference to the Dutch Patients’ Association (NPV), which has 70,000 members of whom at least 6,000 have “living will declarations” stating that they do not want euthanasia if they are taken into hospital or a nursing home.
Other Dutch people, however, make written declarations of their “will to die”.
Mr Fitzpatrick concluded: “These discussions are complex, involving deep moral questions that cannot and must not be treated as though they were merely matters of fact with clear and obvious answers that everyone must share, as though logic dictated it.
“The lives of many disabled people depend on resisting attempts to introduce a law legalising the intentional act of killing.”