Assisted dying leaves vulnerable at risk, warns alliance of doctors
Allowing doctors to help terminally ill people to take their own lives would ‘devalue the most vulnerable’ in society, a group of physicians has warned.
Next month the House of Commons will debate whether to overturn the ban on assisted suicide.
But a group of nearly 80 doctors across the country has written an open letter to MPs warning that many elderly and disabled people already feel pressured to end their own lives because they think they are a burden to relatives.
“We believe such proposals devalue the most vulnerable in society,” they write in a letter in The Daily Telegraph
“We regularly come across patients who feel a burden to their relatives and to society due to their particular health and social care needs.
“They are under pressure from within to remove themselves as a burden on their hard-pressed families. With an ageing population and with many families today unable to devote themselves to full-time care of a seriously-ill relative, situations like this are not uncommon.”
They also warned that some families would use a change in the law to exert pressure on relatives.
“Most families are loving and caring, but some are not,” they argue.
“We do from time to time come across cases where there are signs of subtle pressures being exerted. These are difficult to prove but they can be very real, and we fear that, if Parliament were to legalise assisted suicide for terminally ill people, they would be given free rein.”
Assisted suicide remains a criminal offence in England and Wales, technically punishable by up to 14 years in prison. But polling has consistently suggested high levels of public support.
The Assisted Dying Bill was brought before the House of Lords by Lord Falconer but it ran out of time before the general election.
However Labour MP Rob Marris, adopted the draft regulations and they are expected to be debated in the House of Commons on September 11.
The new Bill would allow patients to end their lives if they have no more than six months to live and had demonstrated a “clear and settled intention.’ Two doctors must sign off the request and it is likely that a High Court judge will make the final decision under safeguards which were added when it was debated in the House of Lords.
Although MPs discussed assisted dying in a backbench committee debate on the Director of Public Prosecution’s guidelines in 2012, it will be the first time in almost 20 years that the Commons has taken a vote on the topic.
Downing Street has concern that the proposed change in the law would leave vulnerable people feeling pressurised to end their lives but signalled that Conservative MPs would have a free vote on matter.
Earlier this month an alliance of bishops, priests and rabbis broke ranks with the religious establishment to voice support for plans to change the law.
In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, they argue that far from being a sin, helping terminally ill people to commit suicide should be viewed simply as enabling them to “gracefully hand back” their lives to God.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has also said that assisted suicide was a “profoundly Christian and moral thing” to do.
However the Rev Dr Brendan McCarthy, the Church of England’s national adviser on medical ethics, claimed that dying people would “most certainly” be put at risk by a change in the law.
The campaign group Dignity in Dying, said the new Bill would make Britain a more compassionate country.
But Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, co-chair of the Campaign group Living and Dying Well, which opposes a change, said licensing assisted dying would ‘fly in the face’ of ongoing attempts to discourage suicide.