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The relentless drive towards euthanasia

We must resist the drive towards assisted suicide in the name of ‘compassion’

By on Wednesday, 4 January 2012

PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

A friend phoned me yesterday. We discussed the Independent Commission on Assisted Dying, due to publish its report this Thursday and which is expected to argue that those who encourage or assist another to die will no longer be threatened with prosecution in certain cases. “It will happen”, my friend said ominously: “There are too many old people in this country and we can’t afford to keep them alive.”

I will like to say she is wrong – but I fear she is right. On Monday Lord Falconer, former Lord Chancellor, wrote an article in the Daily Telegraph which the phrase “weasel words” do not begin to describe. Given the sonorous title “A duty of care to our last days on Earth”, one might assume from this alone that it meant care of the dying until natural death. Not a bit of it. Lord Falconer has been a prime mover behind the idea of assisted suicide and it has nothing to do with a true “duty of care”.

The article relates that the Commission has listened to more than 40 witnesses and considered submissions from 1200 individuals and institutions. This is hardly comprehensive, given the gravity of the project’s purpose. Which institutions were included? And how did the Commission weigh up their findings if their conclusions are, as we expect, foregone?

The Commissioners also travelled to countries and states, such as Switzerland, Oregon and Holland, where a form of assisted suicide is lawful. This was an expensive and unnecessary exercise, only undertaken so that Falconer could say “we have looked at this from every angle” and convey to the reader a false security when he states, with reference to Dignitas, the notorious Swiss clinic, the Commissioners “did not like much of what they saw.”

Apparently they were not over-pleased by Holland either, which allows young people, aged 12-17, to request an assisted death “as long as the parents give their consent”. Falconer asks virtuously, “Would that be acceptable in Britain? We doubt it.” Oregon got a similar No-no. Good old Falconer; in Britain we want to do things properly, in the low-key, dignified, mustn’t grumble way we Brits always do things. “We have tried to provide a possible way forward, which addresses the need for safeguards. It is a difficult subject. But for many people it has a profound effect on whether or not their last days on Earth are bearable.” I like the choice of words like ‘safeguards’, ‘profound’ and ‘bearable’; they give an extra gloss of seriousness to what is indeed a difficult – actually, life or death – subject.

But it is Lord Falconer’s use of the word “compassion” that most put me on my guard. He writes: “The Director of Public prosecutions’ guidelines indicate that where the prospective defendant [in a case of assisted suicide] was motivated wholly by compassion, it is unlikely that a prosecution should be brought.” He adds (as he would), “We found no one in our evidence who wanted the assister to be prosecuted if their assistance to help a loved one to die was motivated by compassion.”

Does Lord Falconer have no understanding of human nature? Or has he wilfully ignored what he knows to be the case? That is, none of us can be sure that in the case of a dying friend or, much more likely, a relative, we are motivated “wholly by compassion” when we deliberately help them to die. It suggests we are much more saintly than we really are.

How can we be sure that we are not influenced by a financial interest in their death; that we are not driven by selfishness, low reserves of patience or our own inability to cope with their situation?

I care for my almost 88-year-old mother, who lives next door to me. For her age she is still, thank God, in reasonable health. But she has her bad days when she feels low and knows she will never recapture the vigour of her earlier life (and it was a very vigorous life). Recently, in one of these episodes, she told me she hated feeling weak and unable to be as independent as she wanted. “I don’t want to be a burden on my children like this” she told me forcefully; “I would rather die.” I might add that I do stand to gain financially when she dies. Fortunately, these moments are rare; my mother has a strong religious faith; she has a large family who all love her and who do what they can to make her last years comfortable and happy.

But what about all those vulnerable people whose relatives neglect them and who live in a Home or hospital, or at home, but who are not looked after properly by staff or carers; who die by inches of loneliness and despair. It is fatally easy in such cases to introduce the ‘compassionate’ idea that they would be “better off dead.” What is to stop the juggernaut of assisted suicide slowly advancing on the aged, let alone those who have a terminal illness?

We must fight Falconer and his conscientious, hard-working Commissioners all the way.

  • Scyptical Chymist

    Unfortunately, Lord Falconer’s and his ilk’s weasel words go down well with a general public steeped in sentimentality and who seem tolerant of anything “so long as it doesn’t affect others”. Relativism rules  and the idea of an absolute moral standard is foreign in a society where self expression/ indulgence is the norm. Many of our leading politicians openly oppose family values and encourage hedonism by the policies they advocate. We need outspoken, immediate and continuous statement of Christian values from our leaders even though this will almost inevitably lead to the resentment, opposition and denigration from the metropolitan elite, foul mouthed bloggers and the “liberal” minded politicians.

  • South Ssxon

    The Catechism states:
    “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.”
    Debate over.

  • Bob Hayes

    The English legal system, and our legislators, do not recognise the category of homicide known as ‘crime passionel’, which is found in the French legal system. The nearest we have is the acceptance (in some circumstances) by prosecutors and the courts of manslaughter rather than murder charges; both of which nonetheless are extremely serious offences.

    Charlie Falconer and his team seem to be paving the the way for a whole new concept of ‘crime passionel’, where taking the life of an extremely vulnerable person can be deemed an act of ‘compassion’ – sanctioned by the State. This is utterly appalling: this is murder.

  • theroadmaster

    The English language is a flexible friend for those who verbally blur the reality of the putting to death of those who have reached the most vulnerable psychological and physical points in their lives.  It has been the same evolutionary process with the choice of language concerning abortion e.g “right to chose” or “reproductive rights”.  Our compassion is unfortunately misplaced if we think that the only eventuality worth contemplating for those who have admittedly have to experience very painful and debilitating diseases/conditions, is a self-medicated death or an assisted ending of life.  In an ideological sense this mindset attaches no more than an utilitarian value to someone’s life and denies the ontological and spiritual reality of life lived to the end of it’s natural existence.  We must be on our guard against  the legislation proposed by such as Lord Falconer and make sure that it is not enacted into law.

  • maryp

    Thank you Francis, for this excellent article.

  • Anonymous

    Under what circumstances can anyone claim for himself the right directly to extend the life of a human being by medical intervention?

  • David Lindsay

    Capital punishment is one of the two ultimate expressions of statism as idolatry, the other being nuclear weapons. And assisted suicide, the legally authorised and even publicly funded killing of people falling into categories defined by the State, would be a form of capital punishment, which in the ordinary sense of the term was also always voluntary, in that judges never had to apply it, and did not always do so even in murder cases.

    Even as things stand, Keir Starmer has never brought a prosecution for assisted suicide under the Suicide Act 1961. It could not be clearer that the Crown Prosecution Service should be abolished, and that all rulings of the new “Supreme Court” should be made subject to ratification by resolution of the House of Commons, without which such rulings would have no effect.

    There is also a strong case for once again requiring its judges to sit in the House of Lords; as much as anything else, much good work was quietly done by their Peers, especially bishops, in having injustices called in for review.

    The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom is nothing other than the High Court of Parliament. But instead, we now have Starmer and his mates on the Bench making up the law to suit themselves.

  • Zen37563

    I think the answer lies here. The Catechism states:
    “Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of ‘over-zealous’ treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted”

  • Anonymous

    From that statement, as long as a medical intervention is not burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome, it can be legitimate to continue. Is that not ‘playing God’ with the timing of the end of life in a way that your original comment seems to oppose?

  • South Saxon

    Is there not an understanding that all ordinary means be used to preserve life. Pope John Paul II outlined in the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae the necessity to continue nutrition and hydration to those in a vegetative state and that any other course was “euthanasia by omission”. It is not a question of “playing God”.

  • Bob Hayes

    BBC coverage notes, ‘The Commission on Assisted Dying – set up and funded by campaigners who want to see a change in the law – said the current system was “inadequate” [...] It was funded by the author Sir Terry Pratchett’. 
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-16410118

    Everyone should be in no doubt that this is a work of propaganda by the pro-death lobby. It is worth noting (also reported by the BBC) that the British Medical Association refused to give evidence.

  • Anonymous

    In Australia the euthenasia advocates regard getting legislation up as the most pressing.Once this is achieved their aim is to extend it to apply to people whose quality of life is deteriorated,such as those with dementia.This was promoted on an ABC 7.30 report recently and ably replied to by the Bishop of Parramatta on the same program.So arguing against any legislation using the thin edge of the wedge argument is quite acceptable.One of the main advocates,a doctor, was shopping a few months ago in Adelaide for a hospital or unit to perform ‘end of life’ procedures once legislatiuon allows it.A new cottage industry,no doubt with a taxpayer funded medicare number.
     One of the more difficult emerging problems is the idea that ‘its my life,and if it is a gift,I want to give it back’.In Australia the number of youth and all age suicides is not reflected in coronial reports as these often leave an ‘open ‘result,so the true rate of death is under reported.If this view of life takes hold there is no argument open at the sharp end when the suicide line counsellor gets the call.
     In Australia,again,one of the highest suicide rates is in Veterinary Surgeons.One of the key stressors for vets is the euthenasia of animals.It is notable that doctors in the USA refuse to assist in capital punishment,from a personal point of view that may be a very sane decision.
     What we need is good palliative care and the people mobilised to insist on it.

  • Scyptical Chymist

    Further to my earlier comment, I see that the Right Reverend James Newcome, the Anglican Bishop of Carlisle has spoken out on this issue. As I commented earlier the reactions to his views by some bloggers are not well measured but  are contemptuous and abusive and, moreover, intolerant of those who support the bishop. While I believe most people will not be as extreme  as this, nevertheless many have been so softened up by the mores of the present day West, that they will sympathise with the general “compassionate” view and allow euthanasia by decree to be introduced with “safeguards”, which will be gradually ignored, See

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/8994338/Church-of-England-calls-assisted-suicide-plan-morally-unacceptable.html

    I await a comment from our Catholic hierarchy.

  • Rosemarie

    Chapter 10 of the Book of Job & Psalm 139 both present in a few unmistakable sentences God as the maker of each unique human being …
    We are the pots, He is the Potter … the only allowed decider over life and death …  Jeremiah 18.
    Messiah bore our sufferings  -Esaie 53-  we lift them up to Him in times of distress and await His answer …  to wait is to exercise  the grace and the patience he alone gives …   And it is difficult.
    But just as we are not called to tender a garden of roses, death is not a garden of roses … it is the last enemy to conquer.
    We, the Bride of the Lamb, shall all be raised ! it is with this living hope that we await the passage into eternal life, without hurrying it.
    Rosemarie

  • Anonymous

    It should not be a question of playing God, but your original post suggests that it is.

    Let me put it this way: If a patient is dying in agony, should we
    (a) assume that God (or some other deity) is in full control and therefore do whatever we like regarding the patient on the basis that we are being controlled by God, or
    (b) assume that God is not in full control and so use our brains (God-given or not) to the best of our ability to determine what we think is the best action?

    Note that assumption (b) implies that we cannot rely on any Pope or Catechism to provide the best guidance. Nor can we rely on current law or the recommendations of the Commission on Assisted Dying. (We should have a very good reason to deviate from these sources of wisdom.) Whether we are able to muster the courage to do what we think best is another matter.

    Death is a grave matter. Assumption (b) requires us, if possible, to consider our actions carefully. Advice based on no evidence whatsoever (such as “God alone is the Lord of life”) should, as in all moral judgements, carry zero weight. Each instance has its own set of circumstances. It is difficult to document rules that cover all combinations of circumstances. Rules of thumb (such as “no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being”), however memorable for their brevity, are rarely comprehensive. Furthermore, inconsistent advice (such as that it is wrong to influence the time of death, but it is OK to delay death) is not very helpful.

    Urgency or incompetence may defeat deep consideration of all the relevant factors and we may have to rely on our instinct and education, which makes it all the more important that the issues are pre-considered (and reconsidered as necessary, perhaps in the light of scientific advances) by expert committees, and that the law is adjusted accordingly.

  • South Saxon

    I am merely an ordinary Catholic in the pew: I accept the teachings of the Church. My lay understanding of this matter is that further treatment, beyond pain relief and continuation of sustenance, is not provided when – to quote the Catechism – “one’s inability to impede it [death] is…accepted.” I try to follow what the Church teaches me through the Catechism; if you want a learned theological answer you need priest to explain this matter, not me.

  • Losiento

    Dear TreenonPoet

    Forgive me if I am wrong, but I assume that you are an atheist for whom nothing exists outside the natural world.  As such you are no doubt aware of the logical consequence of this – the absence of moral compass from your world view, so what “evidence” would you propose to weigh any “moral judgement”?

    Whereas I would fully agree with the maxim expressed in the catechism:  “no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being”, You describe this as only a rule of thumb which is not comprehensive.  So, I am intrigued to know under what circumstances would you propose to claim for yourself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being? I am also intrigued to know what sort of scientific advances might have a bearing on your response to this question? 

  • Anonymous

    By what logical process do you conclude that naturalism infers absence of moral compass?

    In making a moral judgement regarding euthanasia, I would weigh factors such as the signs of distress exhibited by the patient, the certainty that the patient is not going to get better, the wishes that the patient had previously expressed regarding assisted suicide, etc. Factors such as the interests of the patient’s friends and relations would get a low weighting compared to the interests of the patient if I expected their suffering to be far less.

    (I had a dream in which I had the choice of rescuing my girlfriend or rescuing a multitude of strangers. It troubles me that in this dream I saved my girlfriend, so perhaps I am more selfish than I would like to think. Would it not have been more ethical to sacrifice my innocent girlfriend in order to rescue the others (of unknown innocence)?)

    Relevant scientific advances might be in the relief of suffering, the ability to measure distress and soundness of mind accurately, etc. Consider a hypothetical scientific advance that made it possible to live for hundreds of years in a world that cannot support the current population level. Would you limit the availability of the elixir?

  • Anonymous

    ‘If a patient is dying in agony” we all would agree its time to get some pain relief meds on board and call in the relatives and friends at least.’assume that God is in control’,well for the atheist that is a nonsense and for the theist that believes in free will,its a nonsense also.’use our brains’good idea.’advice based on no evidence’Is the assumption here that anyone who disagrees with euthenasia lacks instinct,education,brains,a scientific mind and has a touching trust in a process that appears to have only one end in mind.
    One of the the things that attracts me to the Catholic position is the memorably brief affirmation that human life is to be respected and defended from conception to natural death.For the atheist parts of this can easily be reached scientifically.As the late Christopher Hitchens pointed out,all children begin at conception.I am not sure what your state of the art has reached in the UK,my birthplace,but here in Australia pallation now reaches about one third of patients and is rapidly being rolled out,which is slowly making this debate irrelevant.Most would accept that it is not good medicine to cure disease by killing the patient,a temptation for those who see human life as a form of useful taxpaying work unit.The corollary is that the ethos for support for the patient until natural death is good medicine,encouraging the careing profession to persist in their vocation.We need the courage to make this so.

  • Anonymous

    But things are not how we would like them to be. Many people suffer a terrible death. (My personal impression is that things are getting worse in England at the moment.) I hope that your own wish to die a natural death is respected. That would be your choice. Some people would prefer for their misery to be curtailed; for medical resources to be diverted to help those in greater need; for the quality of their whole life to be enhanced by the expectation that this choice would be respected. I would hope that those in the caring profession care enough to respect such choices.

  • theroadmaster

    This is rather a utilitarian view of human life which Catholic theology holds as being sacrosanct and entitled to full respect.  You seem to be measuring health care for the gravely ill as one would measure out food parcel rations in time of economic hardship.

  • http://twitter.com/oobigan Bruce Roeder

    …and over 95% of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted in the USA. When we don’t understand who we really are, then it seems reasonable to choose death for someone whom look upon as a burden or an expensive cost.

  • Anonymous

    I am truly sorry that things have come to this in England and fear that you may have had to endure the suffering of someone close where no one cared or if they did, appeared powerless to intervene in a real way to alleviate the suffering.For me this happened twenty six and a half years ago.In Australia right to die legislation was briefly passed in the Northern Territory before the Commonwealth stepped in and quashed it.The pin up case was a lady said to be dying of incurable cancer and in great pain.She made a national television appeal for the right to die and duly commited suicide with ‘helpers’.On post mortem her cancer was found to be in remission.Since then,and not necessarily because of it,the last two governments have put over two billion dollars[Au},into mental health.Her primary clinical problem was probably depression.
    In the US the debate raged as to who would fund the "atom smasher' to find the boson.US funding for it to be built there was defeated,largly on the grounds that the money could be spent better on healthcare.But here's the rub,no more money was spent on healthcare as a result of this decision.
    From your argument you are clearly of a different mind to those who argue for legislative change here.A prominent QC was on national television arguing for your case,the extreme suffering one,but sees this as an opener for others to also die.He mentioned those suffering from incurable,[now],disease such as dementias,the slippery slope.Such people would not have freedom of choice but would be presumably assessed as non cognative by a panel and with relatives consent ,killed.So the argument has moved on from that of freedom to choose to freedom to kill and not care for those seen as a burden to themselves or others.Pity help granny if her children are not in a position to defend her life.This is pitched as being logical,wheras ,at least in the case cited,the mentally ill was incompetently diagnosed and not treated but ‘allowed’ to commit suicide.Again Catholic social teaching shines a light on this,for me,son of an agnostic mason.                     Those in palliative care in Australia have ably taken the debate to hand,and need our support,for as my father quotes’no man is an island entire unto himself’..

  • Losiento

    Sorry for the delay in responding.  

    I will just deal with the first question you asked as it is fundamental to everything else.

    The logical consequences of the atheist world view relating to the absence of a legitimate moral compass in my comment seem to be as follows;For an atheist, can we agree that nothing exists outside the natural, material universe – i.e. there is no super-natural reality – and nothing that cannot be scientifically measured exists?  However, abstract realities such as morality, the laws of logic themselves and love are non-material and therefore cannot logically exist in an atheist world view. 

    If your views on this topic contain a determination of what is right and what is wrong – the morality of a particular act – I was just questioning how this could possibly be consistent with an atheist world view?  

    This logical consequence was recognized by Nietsche – the so-called father of modern atheism.

    Put simply, what are “right” and “wrong” in an atheist universe as they are clearly not material objects or even properties of material objects, such as colour or smell or mass.  So for an atheist, what are they?

  • Anonymous

    The best indirect way to support palliative care is to support education. One consequence is the benefit to science (leading to advances in the treatment and prevention of health problems), reasoning, and morality. Another consequence is the loss to pseudo-science and superstition. Sadly, this is at odds with some areas of Catholic teaching. The Catholic Church is consequently compromising education and sometimes mis-educating (as are other religious organisations – even Anglicans). This regressive influence is being encouraged by the British Government!

  • Anonymous

    Given limited resources, health care must be rationed. This raises many conundra. There is no need for theology to invent some more.

  • Anonymous

    You, as a material object, have the property of being wrong on this. Naturalism does not reject integers, for example, just because they are abstract representations of how many objects there are. I presume you would agree that science can count objects. Likewise, science can measure love (given the definition of ‘love’). These abstract concepts (counts, love, etc.) do not exist as material objects, but are accepted in naturalism and atheism.

    What about God? What property can be measured? If you suggest the property of answering prayers, this can be measured. Measurements have shown no remote response to prayers. If you suggest the property of creating life, this cannot be measured so there is know way that you could be aware of such a property. And so on. Until some evidence arises, there is no reason to treat God as a natural phenomenon. To declare God as supernatural is a way of saying that God is outside nature – that is, not real.

    I would expand this, but it is rather off-topic.

  • Losiento

    Dear Treenon

    Thankyou for the response. 
    However, I think that you are missing my point.  On the contrary this is fundamental to the topic as the naturalist-atheist world view directly leads to the confused, or as theists would legitimately say “amoral”, opinion that there are circumstances where it could be acceptable for one person to “claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being”

    The fact that most naturalists/atheists rely on abstract or non-material concepts such as Good & bad, right & wrong does not mean that it is consistent with their atheism.  

    What is a scientific measure of love or of good and bad?  Why is it wrong to take another person’s possessions or to kill them etc etc?  Most atheists would agree that these actions are wrong. But an atheistic viewpoint cannot logically rely on an objective , transcendent, non-materialist  concept of right & wrong, so what I am saying is that most atheists espouse a theoretical atheism (talk the talk) but in their day to day lives rely on theist concepts (don’t walk the walk). 

    I would never suggest that God can be measured by the scientific method, but then the scientific method is not the only way that humans come to understand the universe and particularly the meaning of their existence  - for that we have philosophy, ethics and – what used to be called the “queen of the sciences”: theology.

    I appreciate that you might not wish to pursue the dialogue but I pray that you will continue to engage with the topics we have touched on.

  • Anonymous

    Dear TreenonPoetI am only using this page as the other thread has got too narrow to type into.There has been a lot of thought put into the problem of how to fairly fund education in Australia.I realise this is a long way off the first thoughts but I want to follow you and make a suggestion based on the Australian experience.At least thirty percent of children are now educated in non state schools here.This is fuelled by the application of another principle,enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights.This is that the parent has the prior right to make the educational choices for their children.This means that churches and governments don’t have that prior right,and the corollary is that the state and church is obliged to support the parents in their right to choose.Under this an atheist school could start up and teach its philosophy,as long as it taught core examinable curricula.
     I will call it a day now but will be glad to read a post if you wish to make one.