Euthanasia isn’t progressive

It’s been done elsewhere and the results are horrifying

Artillery Row

New polling by YouGov suggests MPs are evenly split on whether assisted suicide should be legalised in this country, with 35 per cent saying it should be legalised and 35 per cent opposed. By contrast, the general public are more in favour. MPs are right to be concerned about the consequences of any change in the law. Just imagine with me for a few moments the following scenario.

You wake up in the middle of the night because your phone is ringing. On the other end is a nurse at a local clinic. She explains in a clear, soft, tone that your mother — seemingly okay the last time you saw her — has died after activating her right to “a dignified death”. What would you say? “Excuse me?”

This scenario might sound like the plot of some dystopian novel. But it is all too real for a man called Tom Mortier. In 2012, his mother was euthanaised by doctors in Belgium. He only found out the day after. Unbeknownst to Mortier, the doctors had deemed his mother’s depression as “untreatable”.  Devastated, he has sued the Belgian state and a ruling is due to be handed down.

Had you asked Mortier years ago about euthanasia, he has said he would probably have been supportive

Maybe you think Mortier’s case is an exception. Perhaps in numerical terms, you would be right. But the mere fact that it happened at all is chilling. What kind of decent, “progressive” society treats its own citizens in this way? Failing to inform a person’s loved ones that they are contemplating taking their own life.

When you look around the world, the slippery slope that accompanies euthanasia and assisted suicide laws is plain to see. In Canada, for example, assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia were legalised in 2016 if death was “reasonably foreseeable”. But just three years later, a court ruled that this safeguard needed to be jettisoned. Now the door is being opened to assisted suicide for patients who are sick or disabled, but not dying. It’s taken just three years and already the law is being expanded.

Or take the Netherlands, which is the world’s first euthanasia laboratory. Already legal for anyone older than 12 years old, last year the Dutch government approved plans to allow euthanasia for terminally ill children aged between one and 12. In 2019, more than 6,300 euthanasia requests were handed in. It accounted for 4.2 per cent of the total number of people who died in the Netherlands in 2019.

Meanwhile in Belgium, euthanasia is leal in cases of “hopeless medical condition” and “suffering which cannot be alleviated”. In 2014, the law was changed to allow children to be included, with no age limit. The total number of people being euthanised grew 1000 per cent between 2003 and 2018, from 235 to 2357.  In Belgium people have been euthanised due to depression, blindness and deafness, gender-identity crises and anorexia.

It’s not hard to see how medical practitioners might be pressured to create more spare beds

Despite all the efforts to protect the most vulnerable during this awful Covid-19 pandemic, the pro-assisted suicide lobby is relentlessly trying to build momentum for a law change in Westminster and at the Scottish Parliament as well. They claim that they are merely seeking a narrow alteration based on previous proposals. Following the private members’ ballot in the Lords, Baroness Meacher, the chair of Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) came seventh in the ballot. It will receive a second reading soon and although unlikely to become law, will amplify the issue, aided by a sympathetic media. And they keep talking up the safeguards that might accompany such a change.

But try telling that to Tom Mortier.

No-one wants a bad death, either for themselves or their loved ones. To suffer in excoriating pain at the end of life is a nauseating thought. But thankfully, due to advances in modern medicine and the UK’s strong provisions of palliative care, the overwhelming majority of deaths do not involve unbearable suffering. Pain can be relieved, and a dignified end of life can be ensured.

Of course, there are those for whom pain relief does not work. These are immensely hard cases. The question we need to ask about such cases is should we fundamentally change the way we do end-of -life care to cater for a tiny minority of people? With respect, I believe the answer is no because the net result will be huge risks to the vulnerable majority, such as coercion, and the unspoken insinuation that those who experience terminal or serious illnesses ought to check out.

Such an approach cuts against the very nature of genuine, high-quality care and compassion. Far from being a “progressive change”, legalising assisted killing would in fact be a retrograde step. It would change forever the entire basis of the doctor-patient relationship. No longer would you be able to go to the doctors convinced they would do everything possible to keep you alive. Trust between doctor and patient would be irrevocably destroyed.

It would change forever the entire basis of the doctor-patient relationship

When you consider that the UK has an ageing population, with rising social care costs, it’s not hard to see how medical practitioners might be pressured by busy NHS managers to create more spare beds. It is a horrendous thought but in such desperate financial times, is it really that unrealistic?

Tom Mortier is seeking justice in Belgium. Had you asked him years ago about euthanasia, he has said he would probably have been supportive. That’s until he had a rude, personal encounter with the cruel laws that exist there. I suspect that’s how many people feel. On paper they think it’s fine. But when you look deeper, you realise just what a nightmare it would create if any form of assisted suicide was legalised in the UK.

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