Wednesday 19 November 2008

Euthanasia lobby rumbled in Lords debate

In a House of Lords debate yesterday, an attempt by the pro-euthanasia lobby to mislead people was rumbled by parliamentarians opposed to assisted suicide. "Dignity in Dying" (the euphemism which the Voluntary Euthanasia Society now uses for itself) has produced a charter, ostensibly on end-of-life care but thinly veiling its immediate objective of legalising intentional killing of the innocent. Anthony Ozimic, SPUC political secretary (pictured below), provides below a run-down of the debate:

"The debate was led by Lord Warner (pictured above), a former Labour health minister. Lord Warner started by declaring that he is a member of the British Humanist Association (BHA). That name sounds benign, even positive, but the BHA is a radical anti-life, anti-family campaigning organisation, headed by Polly Toynbee, Britain's leading pro-abortion commentator.

"Lord Warner said that assisted suicide 'should be available to us in a civilised society'. Suicide, however, is not civilised but often a hallmark of societies where human life and intrinsic human dignity have little or no value, such as ancient Rome and Nazi Germany.

"Lord Warner, and Lord Dubs later in the debate, said that it was a matter of not denying people choice. Yet some choices are wrong. Some choices are false choices, because one has no right to choose to do certain things, such as killing the innocent, including oneself. Lord Warner's rhetoric is the same empty rhetoric of choice used by the pro-abortion lobby.

"The Earl of Arran claimed that allowing assisted suicide would provide 'greater protection for the vulnerable'. Allowing assisted suicide, however, will undermine protection for everyone, both the vulnerable and those of us not currently vulnerable, by lessening the value of human life.

"Lord Lester used a well-worn tactic deployed by anti-lifers, by claiming that the law on end-of-life treatment needs clarifying.

"Lord Hameed, a Muslim, pointed out that Islam and many other world religions both prohibit suicide and require doctors to care for patients regardless of terminal illness.

"The Anglican bishop of Exeter said: 'For many—and I declare an interest as a parent of a Down’s syndrome child—the promise of more choice has so often turned out to mean pressure to choose that which suits others'. He added that a law to allow assisted suicide 'by definition, would involve the state in affirming the view of an individual life as intolerable and not worth living'.

"Baroness Jay let the euthanasia lobby’s mask slip by referring to 'medically assisted suicide', rather the 'assisted dying' euphemism.

"Baroness Murphy claimed that '[a] change in the law to allow assisted dying … would immeasurably improve the trust that patients have in their doctors'. Yet when assisted suicide was legalised briefly in the Northern Territory, Australia, aborginals feared going to doctors or hospitals for fear of being killed.

"Baroness Knight, a veteran of the pro-life movement, led the charge in rumbling the euthanasia lobby:

“'Let there be no doubt whatever about the aims of those who are trumpeting this cause today … [The Voluntary Euthanasia Society] is trying to fool us … What we are actually talking about is encouraging people to kill themselves and, worse, opening the way for relatives to get elderly and sick people out of the way … [I]t is very easy to give an old lady or old gentleman the impression that their continued existence leads to great problems and great expense for their sons and daughters … Terminally ill but mentally competent people will, if the true aims of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society are realised, submit themselves to a lethal injection or a fatal dose, when it is made clear to them in a subtle or direct way that it is time that they shuffled off this mortal coil for the general good.'

"Baroness Finlay, a palliative care professor, assisted Baroness Knight:

“'The pro-euthanasia lobby’s approach in this document is reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984 and the Ministry of Truth … Why is the euphemism “assisted death” used? Midwives assist at birth and palliative care assists at death; assistance is supportive help, not accelerating death or cutting life short by months or years. Why not be honest? What are the authors of this document frightened of? What they are really proposing is aiding and abetting suicide or giving doctors a therapeutic option of killing their patients. Palliative and other end-of-life care is being used like bubble-wrap around a sharp and dangerous object in an attempt to assisted suicide by the back door.'

"Lady Finlay argued that '[p]atients die of their disease and deserve good care and support, not shortcuts in care to end life'.She also pointed out that '[i]n Oregon, one in six of those whose suicides were assisted had their depression missed by those assessing the request'.

"Lord Carlile QC asked: 'Do we not have to look at end of life with a quite different set of ethical values? If you assist a thief, the stolen goods can be returned. If you assist a suicide, only the body can be returned; there is no going back'.

"Baroness Emerton joined the assault on the euthanasia lobby, arguing that assisted suicide 'is not a health issue at all. It is one of justice and human rights—the right to life. None of us can escape death but we must have the right to have healthcare provided free from the risk of coercion to suicide.' She also pointed out the euthanasia lobby's 'sleight of hand' in trying to conceal its assisted suicide agenda within a charter on palliative care.

"Baroness Masham, president of the Spinal Injuries Association, reminded the House that '[t]here are only a few people who want to be assisted to be killed, but there are thousands of vulnerable disabled people who fear that if the law is eased, their lives will be put at risk'.

"Baroness Greengross potentially misled the House by claiming that:

“'Those who want to see, in exceptional circumstances, people openly being able to be helped to die are not seeking premature death for anyone; it should happen only at the very last stage of life when people are in intolerable pain.'

"But the whole point of assisted suicide is to bring about death prematurely. Lord Joffe's bill, which is due to be re-introduced, doesn’t just allow assisted suicide 'at the very last stage of life' but where a doctor predicts the patient has up to six months left to live. As we know, terminally-ill patients often live much longer than expected. Lady Greengross, Lord Taverne speaking before her and Lord Lester speaking earlier all misrepresented both the use of pain-relief and the principle of double-effect. Lord McColl, the Conservative health spokesman, rebutted those misrepresentations deftly later in the debate: 'The definition of a good drug such as a pain-relieving drug is that the dose required to relieve is a fraction of the dose required to kill'.

"Baroness Greengross also referred to people 'losing their dignity at the end of life'. But every human being, regardless of age or medical condition, has an inalienable and inherent dignity simply because they’re human. The effects of age or illness cannot touch that dignity, and are addressed by medical treatment and personal care.

"Baroness Howe of Idlicote argued that Baroness Warnock’s recent comments proposing a duty to die were proof of the slippery slope.

"Baroness (Jenny) Tonge described a lady in the advanced stage of motor neurone disease as 'helpless'.But no patient is helpless, even where medical treatment is no longer possible. If (as one hopes and assumes) the lady is receiving basic nursing and palliative care, pastoral attention, and the love of family and friends, then she is being helped, in ways often more important than medical treatment.

"Lord McColl presented the testimony of Alison Davis, convenor of No Less Human, a group within SPUC, whose outstanding life would have been cut short if assisted suicide had been available during her suicidal depression many years ago.

"Baroness Thornton, wrapping up the debate on behalf of the government, said:

“'[T]he Government have no plans to change the law in this area and we have it made very clear that we take a neutral stance when others seek to change the law. This means not standing in the way of such a change, but not actively pursuing it. Equally, we have no plans at present to carry out any associated research in this area.'

Thanks Anthony! As I blogged on Monday, the government's position on assisted suicide must be watched, not least considering its appointment of Joan Bakewell to represent the elderly.

In conclusion, we must be vigilant against both the euthanasia lobby and the government's dangerous self-styled neutrality, whilst remaining grateful that ethically-minded parliamentarians were able to defend the truth.