NRL News

Lord Falconer’s “fast-track” to death assisted suicide bill

by | Jul 3, 2014


By Dave Andrusko

Lord Falconer

Lord Falconer

I hope you had the opportunity to read Jennifer Popik’s “Despite a Loss in NJ and Pushback in Vermont, Doctor-Prescribed Suicide Advocates Forge Ahead.”

It is an important reminder that proponents of doctor-prescribed suicide are nothing if not resolute. They have a distorted vision but by appealing to most difficult of cases it can soften the resistance of people who have not thought through what happens when the state goes soft on assisted suicide.

Our job—as it has been for decades—is to clarify where they cloud over, spell out where they erase, and communicate clearly where they fog over.

NRL News Today regularly writes about Lord Falconer. As the think-tank “Living and Dying Well” explained in a brilliant critique, Lord Falconer’s Private Member’s Bill “proposes no mere amendment of the law but a fundamental change to it. It is asking Parliament to agree that it should be lawful for some people to involve themselves in deliberately bringing about the deaths of others.”

As Dr. Peter Saunders wrote, “Moreover, they observe, the bill contains no safeguards – beyond stating basic eligibility criteria – governing the assessment of requests for physician-assisted suicide. It leaves these crucial questions to be decided by others after Parliament has approved the bill. ‘As it stands,’ the Peers write, ‘the bill is asking Parliament to sign a blank cheque’”

On July 18, the “Assisted Dying” bill receives its second reading in the House of Lords.

An additional helpful critique appeared this week in The Spectator magazine. Jenny McCartney’s “The terminal confusion of Dignity in Dying” raises concerns too often lost in the blur of the kind of advertisements they are seeing for Lord Falconer’s bill which she describes as “featuring the grueling ‘obituaries’ of individuals whose suffering was prolonged, the campaign argues, by the absence of ‘assisted dying.’”

Consider where the bill would take British society:

“The Bill would, for the first time, invoke the state’s support for openly assisting an individual to die. That is a fundamental shift. And while the Bill speaks reassuringly of its checklist — the terminally ill patient would need to be mentally competent and receive the sanction of two doctors — the longer one looks, the less reassuring it grows. What is this clause of ‘six months or less’ to live? As most doctors know, such diagnoses can be deeply unreliable. And by what logic do we attach an ‘assisted death’ to a six-month prognosis but not, say, that of a year? As Lady Butler-Sloss sharply observed, the Bill exchanges ‘a natural frontier’ for ‘arbitrary criteria.’”

And, of course, if ‘assisted dying’ is to be permitted for the terminally ill,

“why would we then deny it for the kinds of conditions which terrify many of us far more: the prospect of prolonged advanced dementia, for example, or ‘locked-in’ syndrome of the sort which the late right-to-die campaigner Tony Nicklinson bravely endured? Many campaigners see no reason why euthanasia should not also be afforded in such instances.”

McCartney shrewdly observes that the limitations were deliberately anything but absolute, offered because “they are thought to be the maximum that the public would presently accept.” But this “rolling process” was among the many reasons people with disabilities were “chilled” by the 2012 report from Lord Falconer’s Commission on Assisted Dying.

McCartney wrote that the report

“observed that the commission could not agree on whether to extend the ‘assisted dying’ option to those with disabilities, concluding that ‘we do not consider that it would be acceptable to society at this point in time to recommend that a non-terminally ill person with significant physical impairment should be made eligible.’”

The “clear implication”? According to McCartney” that at another point in time it might indeed become acceptable. Tanni Grey-Thompson, the disabled peer, wrote eloquently of her deep unease that ‘while I am not seen as a potential candidate for assisted suicide right now, I am in the waiting room.’”

In a word, Lord Falconer’s proposed bill is the usual wolf in sheep’s clothing shorn of a firm anchor to prevent the measure from sweeping in other vulnerable categories of people. McCartney’s conclusion is ominous but spot on.

“Once the euthanasia option exists, it immediately alters the nature of the conversation. The suggestion that a patient conveniently embrace the opportunity might remain unspoken, but it will not go unconsidered.

“The radical on the edge of this discussion is Ludwig Minelli, the flamboyant Swiss lawyer and founder of the euthanasia clinic Dignitas, who is an equal opportunities purveyor of prescribed death. His view on assisted suicide is that it should be ‘without conditions. A human right is without any conditions except capacity.’ The Dignity in Dying group is troubled by Minelli, and has in the past disowned his position. Yet while I do not agree with Minelli, his universally applied ideology seems in its way more bluntly honest and less disturbingly illogical than those who seek to erect a halfway house in which only selected groups in our society are invited on the professional fast-track to death.”

Categories: Assisted Suicide