Parliament supports 'compassionate' guidelines on assisted dying
If their lives are 'dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable', why should they be denied the right to end their troubled existence? Who really can judge whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them? Yet gradually, surreptitiously and incrementally, the courts and the DPP have sided with the afflicted and suicidal against the expressed will of Parliament. The Suicide Act 1961 makes assisting suicide illegal. But we can't be having enlightened 21st-century deaths bound by primitive 20th-century attitudes.
Whether you call it 'euthanasia', 'mercy killing', 'assisted suicide', the 'right to die', these are matters for Parliament rather than the courts. A single judge may be swayed by the powerful and distressing facts of a unique case, such that his or her compassion might admit the common law defence of necessity to override any murder charge.
Yesterday the House of Commons passed unopposed a motion to 'welcome' the DPP’s guidance, published in February 2010, which attempted to clarify when compassionate intervention may mitigate murder. Whilst not being absorbed into UK law, this new prosecuting policy is now effectively sanctioned by Parliament, and the 'right to life' waters are muddied sufficiently to permit a little more judicial activism. Either assisting a suicide is illegal or it is not: it cannot be legal one day, when life is 'dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable', and illegal the next, when things feel a little better.
During the debate, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP asked: How can prosecutors be sure that someone assisting suicide is motivated by compassion, not other factors? Disabled MP Paul Maynard said assisted suicide sends message that some lives (eg disabled) are not worth living. Legal assisted suicide for one person would diminish the value of the life of every person, he said. He also said that the true definition of compassion is being lost: it is not feeling sorry for someone but ‘fellow suffering’. Dr John Pugh MP said that euthanasia is a logical conclusion of assisted suicide. He and David Burrowes MP argued that enshrining the DPP’s guidelines in statute would fetter the DPP, denying the discretion given to him by other statutes.
Fiona Bruce MP observed that that UK is world-leader in hospice care. It prioritises care, not ending life. A palliative care specialist told Mrs Bruce that doctors are concerned that legal assisted suicide would put them in very difficult position regarding their patients. She also said that disabled peer Baroness Campbell says assisted suicide won't stop with the terminally-ill but will threaten the disabled.
Solicitor-general Edward Garnier QC opposed the motion to put the DPP’s guidance on a statutory footing. Glenda Jackson MP said that Lord Falconer's Commission on Assisted Dying was biased and funded by assisted suicide lobby. Naomi Long MP said that it is difficult to assess if a patient is terminally-ill. The proposed terminal illness 'safeguard' is therefore dubious.
Ian Paisley Jnr MP argued that the House of Commons would be foolish to put in place a law deciding when someone loses their life. He also said that assisted suicide would open a Dutch-like floodgate to euthanasia. Frank Field MP said that euthanasia was the unspoken issue in the debate. He added that some relatives have vested interests in patient's death. Mark Pawsey MP said that his family experience tells him that legalising assisted suicide would be wrong. It would be a slippery slope for our nation.Edward Leigh MP said that we must never let old people feel they are burdens. Life must come first and we must proclaim life.
Jim Shannon MP called on Parliament to uphold the Hippocratic Oath's 'First do no harm' principle and the Oath’s ban on doctor-assisted suicide. Robert Halfon MP said that legalising assisted suicide is dangerous, and called on MPs to remember that ‘life unworthy of life’ was the basis of the Nazi euthanasia programme. John Glen MP argued that a blanket law banning assisted suicide is only way to protect vulnerable.
The law on assisted suicide remains unchanged: it is punishable by up to 14 years in prison. Yet we know where the DPP's 'guidelines' will end, for we have seen with abortion that procedures which were only ever intended to be performed in extremis lead to all manner of unintended abuses. A distinction will now be drawn between maliciously encouraging someone to kill themselves, which would continue to be prosecuted, and compassionately supporting someone's decision to die, which will not lead to arrest and prosecution.
And it will be for the clever and expensive lawyers to argue over whether or not one may be compassionately malicious.