Tuesday 17 November 2009

Leading bioethicist warns of "radical remaking of society"

Wesley J. Smith, a leading American bioethicist, addressed anti-euthanasia activists last night at the Cadogan Hotel, London. Anthony Ozimic, SPUC's communications manager, was there and he has sent me a picture (right) and the points below from Wesley's talk. Wesley is pictured with the Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury, who kindly hosted the meeting. Mr Smith told the meeting:
  • There is a push to legalise a broad array of private killing.
  • There is no real moral distinction between assisted suicide and euthanasia. They are like one leg following the other when walking.
  • The push for euthanasia is based on a two-part ideology: firstly, that killing is an acceptable solution to human suffering, and secondly, autonomy. This ideology represents a radical remaking of society, from one predicated on equality to one in which people's lives exist on different tiers of value.
  • In our polyglot, multi-cultural society, law has become the means by which the morality of actions is judged.
  • The criteria in the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP)'s draft guidelines is the same as the criteria in Margo MacDonald's Scottish bill: assisting suicide should not be prosecuted where the deceased was terminally ill, neurologically degenerating, or seriously physically disabled. Scottish euthanasia activists are far more candid than their counterparts in England or elsewhere. The 2002 law allowing euthanasia in The Netherlands had its origins in prosecutorial guidelines which were relaxed at the behest of judges in the 1970s.
  • In quadraplegic patients, depression is no higher after five years of quadraplegia than among the general population. The Hollywood film Million Dollar Baby, however, sent the message that people with quadraplegics are better off dead.
  • Assisted suicide/euthanasia is not a medical act, as it can be performed by lay people. In The Netherlands, the euthanasia lobby is calling for lay people to perform assisted suicide/euthanasia.
  • The 1995 case of Myrna Lebov, who had multiple sclerosis (MS) and who was coerced into suicide by her husband George DeLury, shows the danger of decriminalising assisted suicide. DeLury had convinced many people that his wife had wanted to commit suicide and that he had assisted her suicide out of compassion. It was later revealed that DeLury had coerced her into suicide because he resented having to care for her. Under the English DPP's draft guidelines, someone cleverer than DeLury in covering his tracks could get away with it. George DeLury's resentment of caring for his wife is similar to the resentment expressed by Jenni Murray, the BBC broadcaster, at the idea of caring for her elderly mother.
  • The Law Lords judgment in the Debbie Purdy case was a blow against the rule of law, which has been now been made worse in the DPP's draft guidelines.
  • Although the authors of the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP) are well-intentioned, there is serious reason to believe that it may be used for back-door euthanasia. Palliative sedation is very rarely required, but according to The Telegraph, it is used in 16.5 percent of relevant cases, which is double the rate in The Netherlands. I have never heard of so many people needing palliative sedation. President Obama's plans for universal healthcare ("Obamacare") is tick-box medicine, similar to the LCP. Patients should instead be treated as individuals, not as categories.
  • Thinking within medical ethics is moving towards the concept of "rational suicide", in which suicide is regarded as a rational choice rather than the result of negative psychological factors. The decisions of the doctors and the coroner regarding Kerrie Wooltorton made that case the epitome of abandonment.
Do read Wesley's excellent blog Secondhand Smoke for more about his UK tour.

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