Sunday 27 September 2009

Cambridge research reminds us why we must never give up in our battle for life

It's been reported in a Cambridge University study published last week that people in a so-called persistent vegetative state (PVS) (or more correctly, persistent non-responsive state) still learn. It provides a welcome reminder that we should never give up in our battle for life and for the right to life, however disappointing and tough that battle may seem at times. Whatever may be the personal views of the Cambridge University researchers, their study is a reminder of the mystery and worth of every human being and that there's no such thing as a life not worthy to be lived. This view of humanity is reflected in universal human rights instruments.

As director of SPUC, like anyone else in the pro-life struggle, I certainly value such reminders from time to time.

SPUC was granted intervener status in Debbie Purdy's legal challenge on assisted suicide. During the past year the Society spent over £50,000 in seeking to defend the value and inviolability of every human life in that particular matter.

Disastrously, two months ago, senior judges in the House of Lords gave a judgement supporting assisted suicide. Earlier this month, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the senior Law Lord who handed down the Purdy judgement, expressed his personal support for assisted suicide, according to The Daily Telegraph. Last week, Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), in response to the Law Lords' judgement, issued guidelines which will be a useful guide to anyone who wants to promote the suicide of their troublesome relatives with impunity.

So did SPUC waste its supporters' money as the only intervener in the Debbie Purdy case? In my opinion, no.

One of the fundamental reasons why legal tolerance of assisted suicide is wrong is that it promotes the idea, already so prevalent in society, that there's such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived. It's one thing for a person to want to commit suicide. It's another thing for another person to agree that it's right for you, in your circumstances, to do so and to help you to do so. It's even more dangerous when society moves towards legal tolerance of assisted suicide.

Assisted suicide rightly remains a serious statutory offence. As Professor John Keown pointed out yesterday in The Daily Telegraph, the Law Lords' recent ruling which helps to minimize someone's risk of prosecution for this offence, is "surely unprecedented, unsound and unconstitutional".

Whether SPUC and our fellow pro-life groups succeed or fail in our battles for the value and inviolability of every human life, we must continue in that fight.

The Cambridge University study on people in persistent vegetative state is particularly poignant, as it was a Law Lords' ruling which resulted in the death by dehydration of Tony Bland, who was in a persistent non-responsive state, in 1992. The growing practice of silent euthanasia in Britain stems from that decision, as does too, I'm sure, the Law Lords' latest ruling in the Debbie Purdy case.

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