Tuesday 23 June 2009

The euphemisms of euthanasia

I am grateful to Anthony Ozimic, SPUC's communications manager, for his reflections on the news that the Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES), rebranding itself Dignity in Dying, now claims that does not campaign for euthanasia or suicide. Anthony writes:
Sarah Wootton (pictured), the VES' chief executive, writing in yesterday's Guardian, claims that:

"[W]e campaign for the choice of assisted dying for the terminally ill within strict safeguards. Not euthanasia. Not suicide ... but the choice of assistance to die for those who are suffering, competent to make the decision and are already dying."

In recent years, the VES' strategy has been to narrow its campaigning targets and soft-soap its public face, in order to allay opposition and thereby get some movement towards the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia. That is the real reason why the VES now calls itself Dignity in Dying, not because it no longer supports euthanasia. The VES' name-change mirrors the name-change of the Hemlock Society in America to "Compassion and Choices".

The duplicity of the VES campaign is further seen in their support of Debbie Purdy's legal challenge. Mrs Purdy's stated aim is to find out how likely it is that her husband will be prosecuted if he assists her to travel to Dignitas in Switzerland. The VES claims that she "would like the option of an assisted death should her suffering become unbearable". Mrs Purdy herself is more explicit:

"Since the 1961 Suicide Act was introduced we have legalised homosexuality and abortion without making them compulsory. We need to look at the law on assisted suicide again and think about how that could be legalised too with proper safeguards in place." [AO: my emphasis]

And Mrs Purdy, who has multiple sclerosis, is not dying, as multiple sclerosis is not a terminal illness. So why is the VES - which has declared that "assisting non-terminally ill adults to die is wrong" - supporting her case? The immediate reason is that the VES is using the case as a lever for the legalisation in the UK of assisted suicide and euthanasia, for both terminally-ill and non-terminally ill persons. The truth of this immediate reason is confirmed by the VES' boast that that it was "involved in drafting the Mental Capacity Act 2005", which enshrined in English law euthanasia by neglect of non-dying, non-competent and non-consenting adults.

The deeper reason for the VES's support for Mrs Purdy's case (and for euthanasia generally) is only hinted at by Mrs Purdy's analogy with legal abortion, but made more explicit in the words and person of Sarah Wootton herself. In her Guardian piece Ms Wootton has described the opposition to so-called assisted dying as "the anti-choice lobby". Dig a bit deeper elsewhere and one discovers that, before coming to the VES, Ms Wootton worked for the pro-abortion Family Planning Association (FPA) and was a founding trustee of Abortion Rights.

So now we know exactly where we are - in the dark world of anti-life euphemism, the hall of smoke and mirrors where unborn babies are re-labelled "products of conception" and killing them is called "terminating an unwanted pregnancy".
So I have no hesitation in awarding Ms Wootton our George Orwell prize.

“Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." George Orwell

Comments on this blog? Email them to johnsmeaton@spuc.org.uk