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Resisting euthanasia: why the struggle has no end
THIS IS NO TIME for defeatists.
First we had two court cases for the right to die brought by patients suffering from Motor Neurone Disease (MND). The second of these was Diane Pretty asking for assisted suicide — a case which went to the European Court of Human Rights, which rejected her petition.
The judgment cited Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights which "safeguards the right to life, without which enjoyment of any of the other rights and freedoms in the Convention is rendered nugatory". The judgment also stated that assisted suicide should not be allowed "for the protection of others" and that it would "seriously undermine the protection of life".
The euthanasia lobby then began publicising a group in Switzerland who were assisting patients to commit suicide. It was obvious that their next step would be to find a willing victim to travel to Zurich to be "helped" to kill himself. In the meantime, they continued a publicity campaign claiming that before dying Diane Pretty had experienced all she had feared — pain and choking.
This contradicted a statement from the consultant at the hospice caring for her who declared that her death had been peaceful and painless. The same statement was circulated by the MND Association to patients who became frightened by the euthanatists' publicity.
It is significant that the tragic case of Reginald Crew was launched as a major publicity campaign — a campaign so expertly planned and carried out that the euthanasia lobby's claim that it was organised by Mr Crew and his family is laughable. In almost every interview Mr Crew gave fear of choking to death as the main reason for preferring assisted suicide. It appears that Mr Crew and his family were never informed that according to current medical literature choking to death is no longer an issue for MND patients who are properly cared for. The MND Association literature also makes it clear that given adequate palliative care the majority of MND patients die peacefully, mostly while they sleep.
There is something singularly macabre about a lobby which will deliberately create fear in order to achieve its aims. For well over 30 years now, the proud claim of the hospice movement has been the fact that palliative care is able to control the pain of cancer patients, allowing them "to live until they die".
NONETHELESS, IN the latest attempt of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES) to subvert the law we have Lord Joffe — described as a human rights lawyer — putting forward a Bill which assumes that control of suffering is beyond modem medicine. It is a thoroughly wicked Bill.
It contains the usual cliches, allowing euthanasia for a "competent adult, who is suffering unbearably from a terminal or serious incurable physical illness and wants medical help to die". It then goes one step further and — in the words of the VES press release — would give patients the "legal right to maximum pain control". This is confirmed in Clauses 14 and 6(2) of the Bill.
Of course, patients already have the legal right to maximum pain control — but the obvious aim is to make it appear as though this is.not so. It even has an "opt out" clause for doctors with a "conscientious objection" when a patient asks "to receive pain relief'. In other words, according to the VES, we must change the law to allow for the double effect principle, whereby doctors may provide adequate pain control even though it may shorten the life of the patient — a practice which is already at the very basis of the hospice movement. Indeed, far from being allowed to "opt out", any doctor today who allows a patient to die in agony should be reported to the General Medical Council for culpable negligence.
To accept all this, however, does not suit the aims of the euthanasia lobby. Lord Joffe's Bill will certainly not reach the Statute Book — even though it is probable that members of the Lord Chancellor's Department are backing it.
Nonetheless, the pro-euthanasia lobby will be back with another Bill and then another until, they suppose, one day they will be successful. Unfortunately, this is happening at a time when there are too many voices lamenting the inevitability of things going from bad to worse in a "post-Christian era". Although the courageous support from many in the Church is still formidable, the fact is that an increasing number of Catholics have fallen into a fatalistic mind-set, in which any attempt to stand against the spirit of the age in such matters is characterised as "taking a negative view".
It was this kind of attitude which resulted in the legalisation of "voluntary" euthanasia in the Netherlands, where today not only have 51 per cent of those who die from euthanasia not specifically requested it, many of them have never even mentioned the subject. It has also resulted in the total collapse of the hospice movement — in the words of one medical practitioner: "Since we have euthanasia now, palliative care is unnecessary" — with only two or three such clinics for the whole country.
If we want to continue to defeat a lobby which could finally change Britain from being a caring society into a society which regards killing as the answer to disease, we in the Church must remain vigilant. And above all, we must have the courage to persist in being "negative"; it is, after all, our vocation to be signs of contradiction.