After three rousing speeches and media appearances with David Prentice in Ireland on cloning and ESCR, I am off today over the Irish Sea to London, where I will speak Monday night in the Parliament Building about assisted suicide. Ahead of the event, I was asked by my sponsors to write a piece for placement in the UK Media. I was delighted that it made today’s Telegraph. From my column:
Imagine that you have lung cancer. It has been in remission, but tests show the cancer has returned and is likely to be terminal. Still, there is some hope. Chemotherapy could extend your life, if not save it. You ask to begin treatment. But you soon receive more devastating news. A letter from the government informs you that the cost of chemotherapy is deemed an unjustified expense for the limited extra time it would provide. However, the government is not without compassion. You are informed that whenever you are ready, it will gladly pay for your assisted suicide.
Think that’s an alarmist scenario to scare you away from supporting “death with dignity”? Wrong. That is exactly what happened last year to two cancer patients in Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal.
I opened with that story–oft discussed here at SHS–because of the rationing that is taking place in the NHS: It’s use in the UK as a form of resource preservation is a threat that I hope will be considered in the latest round of emotionalized assisted suicide agitation that appears almost daily in the media.
For example, MS patient Debbie Purdy sued to ensure that her husband could take her to Switzerland for assisted suicide without legal consequence. She lost–technically–but the court all but said that the authorities would not pursue the matter should that event take place. Her campaign is being used by advocates–among other “suicide tourism” deaths–as reasons to legalize in the UK on the premise that people who want to die should be able to kill themselves with the help of a doctor at home, rather than be “forced” to fly overseas. (Rarely mentioned, is that Purdy not terminally ill.)
But that could place sick and vulnerable people at considerable risk of feeling duty-bound to put themselves out of their families or society’s misery. I point out that Oregon studies show that most patients receive poison prescriptions in Oregon for existential reasons rather than pain:
Much as I sympathise with her [Purdy’s] plight, such a guarantee would lure us on to the slippery slope where the old and the sick come under pressure to end their lives. A study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine last year, for example, found that doctors in Oregon write lethal prescriptions for patients who are not experiencing significant symptoms and that assisted suicide practice has had little do with any inability to alleviate pain–the fear of which is a chief selling point for legalisation…
When a scared and depressed patient asks for poison pills and their doctor’s response is to pull out the lethal prescription pad, it confirms the patient’s worst fears–that they are a burden, that they are less worth loving. Hospices are geared to address such concerns. But effective hospice care is undermined when a badly needed mental health intervention is easily avoided via a state-sanctioned, physician-prescribed overdose of lethal pills.
Oregon has become the model for how assisted suicide is supposed to work. But for those who dig beneath the sloganeering and feel-good propaganda, it becomes clear that legalising assisted suicide leads to abandonment, bad medical practice and a disregard for the importance of patients’ lives.
I am convinced that assisted suicide can be stopped in the UK, as opponents have there before. I hope this column contributes to that continuing struggle.