What about Dignity in Living?
So it comes as something of a shock to learn that they have rejected Lord Falconer’s recommendations on ‘assisted dying’ and have opted to protect the elderly, sick and vulnerable.
O, sorry, got that bit wrong.
The conclusion of this ‘independent commission’ is that ‘assisted suicide’ (not euthanasia) should be legalised in this country, if only to mitigate the inconvenience of having to jet off to Dignitas, and to address the gross injustice that the poor are discriminated against.
So, you hand-pick a dozen people who think as you think on a matter, and then publish their findings as reasoned and independent intelligence. Palliative care is dismissed as ‘patchy’, and improvements in hospices would not be sufficient for everyone: there would still be some who wanted to die at the time of their choosing ‘rather than face a period of reduced function and independence in their final illness’.
Lord Falconer’s proposals (and, coincidentally, those of his independent commission) include protection for the friends and families of the ill: they should not face prosecution when they help someone to commit suicide, and neither should doctors. Disabled people will be protected from feeling pressurised into taking their lives by ensuring that they must seek the opinion of two independent doctors to certify their mental capacity.
It’s ironic – is it not – that as Parliament dispenses with the very statutory safeguard designed to limit the number of abortions, it is deemed sufficient to protect the disabled. We have seen this before: it does not work. It will always be possible to find two independent doctors to grant one’s wishes, especially if those doctors are as independent as Lord Falconer’s commission. And when, a generation from now, it is deemed to be a hurdle to compassion, it will be done away with. And where ‘assisted suicide’ is impossible for some disabled (simply because they are physically incapable of ‘pressing a button’), we will, as sure as night follows day, see the incremental introduction of state-sanctioned euthanasia, in order that a third party may legally kill the terminally ill or disabled. And from there, why not terminate those who are mentally disabled and incapable of assessing their own ‘quality of life’? Why should autonomy trump compassion?
The report – due to be published tomorrow (but ‘leaked’ by Lord Falconer to The Telegraph) – is designed to pressure Parliament into considering the case for legalising ‘assisted suicide’ (not euthanasia) in order to make people’s ‘last days on earth are bearable’. The problem is that such a Bill would implicitly determine that some lives are simply not worth living: some existences are ‘second class’.
This is not an easy subject; indeed, it is fraught with complexities. The Christian is commanded to love, show compassion, and to weep with those who weep. It is impossible not to be profoundly moved by the testimonies of people who have watched their spouses, parents or children suffer and die. When you add a few celebrities like Sir Terry Pratchett, who has early-onset dementia, and Sir Cliff Richard, whose mother died of the same disease, the campaign for reform gains momentum. And so leading think-tanks and the BBC inculcate the mantra ‘Dignity in Dying’.
When nine out of 12 members of the commission are known supporters of ‘assisted suicide’ (if not euthanasia), and those who take a contrary view are denied a hearing, it is unsurprising that many individuals and organisations (including the BMA) refused to give evidence. The outcome was predetermined, and one must hope that Parliament sees through this façade of an inquiry. The current law exists to protect the vulnerable, elderly and disabled from being or feeling pressured to end their lives because they are either a financial or care burden. It is hard to see how the requirement for two doctors to certify a person’s mental capacity will offer adequate protection against the feeling of being a burden on one’s family, especially when unscrupulous members of that family have a financial interest in the death.
Presently, only about 20-25 people jet out to Switzerland each year to end their lives. It is estimated that the legalisation of ‘assisted suicide’ and euthanasia would lead to 13000 deaths annually. The most vulnerable elderly and disabled would inevitably feel they were a burden on their families and society, and the terminally ill may view the option as preferable to months or years of treatment and palliative care. God alone knows how many teenagers might choose to end their lives over depression, family breakdown or unrequited love.
God said: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life...” (Deut 30:19). The only response to the 'Dignity in Dying' agenda of despair is for us to talk endlessly about Dignity in Living and the hope it engenders. Suffering is never easy, but it is inseparable from the sentient life. There is more to be gained from carrying one's cross than than avoiding it, though the desire is innate. But the passion of Christ is the fundamental paradigm for life: suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
As we await Lord Falconer's full report, we can be sure of one thing: it will be hope-less.