Saturday, 12 July 2014

Assisted dying

With George Carey and Desmond Tutu commenting on reforming the law around assisted suicide (euthanasia) I was reminded by a good friend of an article I written seven years ago on this very subject.  This was part of a series of articles about life issues for the Conservative Christian Fellowship, examining the response of the faith community to today's political challenges. 

In writing my piece I drew heavily on my own experience of my mother's death, which not only challenged me personally but changed my own view on euthanasia. The immediate reaction from many people was "I didn't know you were a Roman Catholic" or "I didn't know you were religious". For the record, I am neither. I do find it strange that people assume that being pro-life equates to having a faith. For me, it's a deeply held belief that the state does not have the right to empower people to take the life of others unless in extremis.

Although this subject is off topic for this blog it is something I feel strongly about. And just as two significant religious leaders can take a view contrary to the teachings of their church, so my own position, coming from one who considers himself socially liberal, shows that it is not just conservatives and the faith community who are opposed to reform. 

I have been encouraged to republish this by my good friend Dr John Hayward and also by a recent Tweet from Maria Caulfield, who is a research nurse specialising in cancer drug trials and who is also our outstanding Parliamentary Candidate for Lewes constituency:

I know many people will disagree with me, and I accept that these issues are far from clear-cut or defined. I also know that the overwhelming majority of people who want reform do so with the best intentions and as an act of humanity. I suspect reform is inevitable, but I hope for a decent and thoughtful debate, and any legislation carring much better safeguards than were put in place for similar matters of reform in the recent past.

Here is my article

Step by step we are heading to a Eugenic-based society.

Well intentioned legislation is invariably redefined by the courts and the result is inevitable liberalisation.

Take, for example, David Steel's Abortion Act of 1967. Safeguards built into the Bill at the time, legalising abortion "only when the Mother's life is at risk" or when there was "evidence of extreme foetal abnormality" were instrumental in gaining the Bill sufficient support to become law. Yet over the ensuing 40 years, liberal judicial activism has redefined those terms to a point where now we have abortion on demand, and for far too many, abortion as a means of contraception. This happened without any further primary legislation until the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act reduced the time limit to 24 weeks.

The same well intentioned philosophy strengthens and encourages those who support Euthanasia. No doubt many stricken patients, and their carers, would welcome such legislation. I was personally tested during my Mother's twelve month struggle with terminal cancer. In my case, however, my own liberal view was turned to opposition as I witnessed the dignity of my Mother's personal struggle. Towards the very end of her life, she was "confirmed" into the Church of England when the Bishop of Chester visited the hospital especially for her service. Following her Confirmation she left her bed for the first time in 5 weeks, she chatted to her friends and family, ate well and even drank a glass or two of sherry. Afterwards she told me it was one of the happiest days of her life and that she had finally found the strength to face what she knew was ahead. Two days later, she died in peace. I have little doubt that had Euthanasia been legalised, my Mother might not have lived to see that day.

My real opposition, however, is based on the example of the Steel Bill. I have little doubt that once legislation on Euthanasia is enacted whatever safeguards and caveats introduced in the original Bill would be redefined and reinterpreted by the Courts, encouraged by those who view balance sheets above human life. Surely, given the precedent, it wouldn’t be long before terminally ill patients had to “opt-out” of being euthanatized at the time of their admission. I fear the 2006 Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists submission to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics (supporting the introduction of euthanasia of disabled newborns) is the thin end of the wedge.

We already have a society which allows, for all intents and purposes, abortion on demand and which is actively considering legislation that will allow the state to euthanize the terminally sick. Technology exists through research into the Human Genome that might soon allow us to identify not only disabilities, but also sex, sexual orientation, eye and hair colour of embryos and the sickening (yet I fear inevitable) introduction of reprogenetics.

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