by Dr. Mary Belton
When an action that Is considered immoral by most of us — that involves breaking one of the Ten Commandments, for instance — is legalised by an Act of Parliament and made no longer a felony — repercussions are incalculable.
When the Abortion Act was passed few could have envisaged Peter Simple's quote from the Medical World six years later -"A woman who goes to a Pregnancy Advisory Service (a registered charity) for an abortion will have no difficulty in obtaining a loan for this purpose from her bank manager."
It was not expected when the Homosexual Act was achieved that the "Gay" society might consider instituting a religious sect for themselves.
It appeared reasonable that a failed suicide should be treated for his mentat state, rather than greeted by policeman with his notebook, when recovering from his attempted trip to another world. But when speaking on euthanasia some years ago I was asked — "Rut if suicide is legal, why not 'assisted suicide'?" And I didn't find the answer very quickly, though it is of course that suicide is regarded in the eyes of the law as evidence of unsound mind and therefore not a criminal act. So that those in favour of legalised euthanasia are very wrong when they use the very misleading term of "legalised or assisted suicide."
Writing for a Catholic paper it may be assumed that readers look upon God as the giver of life and as the only one who has the right to end it. Even humanists have been known to pray at times of danger and stress, so that a decision made in cold blood by a nonbeliever mar not be tile same as one he would make were he at the point of death. Mato of us pray that we may be spared from ending our life paralysed or demented. But we do not know how close to God a person may be when he can no longer communicate with his fellow men — our "second childhood" may be just that, when we regain our first innocence In God's eyes.
"Between the saddle and the ground is mercy Nought and mere) found." We may never know that the planned exit from this world is regretted by the victim, who in we would say a less sane moment signed his Euthanasia form. And he will be forgiven. But who will forgive the killer? And who will carry out the decree, made by two medically qualified people, that so-and-so is to be dispatched?
Can anyone, moreover, imagine the ceremonial attached to legalised euthanasia? Would the relatives be notified so that they could say goodbye? What about those interested who consider that euthanasia is equivalent to murder? Would the executioner arrange a suitable date and time for the lethal injection, or would the patient be left wondering when it was to take place.
How would the death notice be worded? "The operation was successful , and the patient died (?) suddenly" would hardly be explicit enough.
What sort of effect would the killing or the decision-making have on the doctors concerned? How would a doetors family feel about his finishing off his incurable patients, even at their request and legally? Could other patients continue to trust and respect a doctor who exercised frequently his legal power to kill? I feel that a doctor could not afford to alienate those of his patients who disapprove of euthanasia.
How can we give a patient the right to ask his doctor to become his executioner? I hope it would be difficult to gel doctors and nurses to take part. I have suggested in talks and letters to the Press that a referendum should be sent to all doctors and nurses asking this question. The result of this might prevent the re-introduction of a revised Bill.
Before the Abortion Act was passed, terminations of pregnancy had been carried out for humanitarian reasons, in good faith, by doctors using their judgment for the good of the mother. Since the Bourne case nobody was prosecuted unless the motive was suspect. These abortions were performed under the National Health Service fur no fee to the doctor concerned, because no doctor worthy of the name would wish to profit from what he regarded as a tragic necessity.
None of us envisaged that the profession would ever engage openly In abortion for profit, but this has occurred. Who knows what might happen in this way If Voluntary Euthanasia were legalised? The change in the moral climate which has followed the Abortion Act might in the case of euthanasia lead to "Mercy killings" of children and the helpless old. "Death control" might become as acceptable as birth control.
Supporters of Voluntary Euthanasia speak fervently of the dignity of death. And nearly always the passing of a person who has an incurable disease is peaceful and dignified. Doctors now have many ways of relieving pain and also of giving a patient a great feeling of relaxation and comfort. The drugs which an addict will commit any crime to obtain can be given to patients in pain.
If a doctor at present lets his patient pass easily out of this world knowing that his relief of pain may have a double effect. this is a private matter and happens without certification and publicity. Many dying putients can tolerate %.ery large doses of morphine, and the rest induced may
actually prolong rite, necause it relieves the strain. So that the doctor is happily not sure that his treatment of the pain has been a form of euthanasia.
Again, a doctor is not required to make drastic efforts to revive a patient who is apparently tiring as a result of disease; breathing and the heart stop and there is no need at all for artificial respiration and the kiss of life and resuscitation apparatus at the death bed.
How would a doctor feel if. when arrangements had been made for the death of a patient. all certificates filled in, etc., and when he arrives to give the fatal injection, he finds that the patient has taken a turn for the better? I did not see the television programme, but have been told that this actually happened to Dr. Barnard; when he was about to ease an apparently dying man out of suffering, there was a totally unexpected change in the disease process and the patient lived. This doctor, who has been made to appear ruthless by reports of his readiness to gamble with heart transplants, would never take it upon himself to perform euthanasia.
Most doctors may not have the "nerve" or courage, or whatever it is that is needed to recommend a transplant operation; the same doctors may look on euthanasia as a much less serious thing.
But in the case of an organ transplant the motive is to save or prolong life, even at the risk of death. It is very strange that at this point in time our government is seeking to prolong the life of some at enormous risk, suffering, expense, by legislation on availability of organs for transplants I have a feeling that to most people the idea of being kept alive by this method is abhorrent, but
apparently those whose life is made miserable by the failure of, say their kidneys. are ready to undergo this operation even knowing that it is by no means guaranteed to work.
Why do the pushers of the Euthanasia Bill assume that so many people are anxious to die, when these desperate eases are ready to risk everything in the hope of living a little longer?
One idea seems to contradict the other absolutely. But then the idea — that many people who are actually very ill really want to be helped out of this world — is put forward by people who are themselves well, but who feel they cannot bear to see others suffer lingering death, and that they themselves could not bear to suffer as perhaps they have seen a relative or friend suffer.
But we "cannot hear" things until they happen; when they do we find we can weather the storm, and sumetimes the anticipation was worse than the realisation. Experience of suffering teaches us that it is bearable and may even make life deeper and richer. And if we are ton sensitive to bear the suffering of the dying, how is it that we can bear the suffering of the homeless? It would be as logical to destroy those who cannot look after themselves at any stage in their lives.
As long as suffering is part of life surely our duty is to relieve It and not by extermination of those who are suffering. But this seems to be the idea deep down behind the Voluntary Euthanasia Hill, because some people no longer accept the prospect of suffering as a part of life.
But if we could eliminate suffering and people lived placid lives without great sorrows, how would our powers of sympathy develop? And there will always be sadness over deaths and accidents; how can it help to arrange for a small section of ill people to be destroyed?
Let us work positively to get rid of the miser) of the ill, the starving, the pour, the homeless — and not by killing them off. If there are people wanting to die it is up to us to relieve their pain and to give them loving comfort and peace of mind, and above all, not to let anyone feel that he is a burden, so that he might wish to die for the sake of those who care for him. Admittedly, there may be a sense of relief when a person dies after a long But would there be this sense of relief if the death had been arranged? Those who have looked after an aged parent very often feel sick with remorse after the death, blaming themselves, often quite unfairly, for not having been always absolutely kind; because a long illness is trying
for both the nurse and the patient. It would be extremely difficult to persuade these guilty feelings away if' the invalid had asked for euthanasia.
And surely an act of this nature, which affects not only the people coitcerned hut the whole attitude of the country to life and death, should be passed only by a mandate from the nation? A Private Member's Bill is not the way to legalise matters like abortion and euthanasia.
These subjects should be debated and discussed by responsible bodies everywhere, so that opinions may he formed with adequate knowledge of the subject.