Monday, 6 July 2009

Lord Lester's particularly weak article promoting assisted suicide

Lord Lester QC (pictured), the Liberal Democrat peer, has written a particularly weak article in favour of assisted suicide in today's Independent newspaper. I comment below in square brackets on a few of Lord Lester's points. You may like to draw upon my comments when you contact members of the House of Lords about amendments to undermine the law against assisted suicide. Time is running out, as the Lords will debate the amendments tomorrow, Tuesday, 7 July. Please read and respond to SPUC's action alert.

Lord Lester wrote:

"We all hope that, as our lives come to an end, we will be well cared for and will die peacefully and with dignity. We all hope – but many know of others who have had "bad deaths" and fear a similar fate for themselves." [JS: Lord Lester does not define a "bad death". There is a false presumption here that the possibility or probability of a "bad death" justifies an intentionally premature one i.e. assisted suicide/euthanasia.]

"We should celebrate life [JS: That's a bit rich coming from a supporter of abortion and embryo destruction!], and when death comes we should help the dying to end their lives as they wish [JS: But the very point of making assisted suicide legal is to allow the killing of people who are not dying i.e. not yet in the last hours, days or fortnight of life. There is a confusion here between dying and terminal illness, which is a disease likely to cause death within six to 12 months. Also, a patient's wish to be killed does not justify killing them.], and with respect for their dignity. [JS: But assisted suicide undermines people's dignity by sending the message that some people are better off dead.]

"The wonders of modern science have greatly prolonged the normal span of human life, but modern medicine has also created difficult ethical problems about how to balance the right to life and the patient's right to choose to accept or refuse medical treatment when life has become unbearable and death is imminent." [JS: But there is no difficulty here: it is ethical, and has always been lawful, for a patient to refuse to accept treatment where death is imminent. Lord Lester speaks of when 'life has become unbearable', yet what should weighed is not whether life is unbearable but whether the patient's treatment is unbearable.]

"[N]ot everyone wants to die in a hospice and not everyone wants doctors and nurses to strive to keep them alive." [JS: But no one is forced to die in a hospice. Palliative care can be delivered at home or in other settings, and hospice patients sometimes leave hospice to die at home. Treatment which is futile, burdensome disproportionate to benefit or where the patient's death is imminent may ethically and legally be withdrawn. There is no justification for assisted suicide or euthanasia.]

"Like many others, I believe that we need a legal framework which would allow doctors and nurses to be able lawfully to treat terminally ill patients to relieve their suffering as well as pain, even though it would be a virtual certainty that the treatment would shorten their lives." [JS: In fact, correct medical treatment, such as correct doses of painkillers, actually lengthens rather than shortens life. Doctors and nurses treat to relieve suffering every day. Poisoning a patient to death with an overdose is not medical treatment but intentional killing.]

"The Coroners and Justice Bill currently before the House of Lords modernises the language of the Suicide Act 1961, but the Bill does not address the current failure of the law to distinguish between those who maliciously encourage suicide and those who compassionately assist the death of a terminally ill, mentally competent adult." [JS: But assisted suicide is in itself malicious. The intentional killing of an innocent human being is recognised in international human rights law as intrinsically -and therefore always - wrong, and as the worst of crimes.]

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