King's Evangelical Divinity School

5 January 2012

"Allow Assisted Suicide"

A committee of peers and academics chaired by the former Lord Chancellor Charlie Falconer has today called upon the government to permit assisted suicide for those terminally ill with less than a year to live. The Telegraph details one Anglican bishop's criticism of the commission as
a “self-appointed” group that excluded anyone who objected to legalising assisted suicide.
Aside from the group's clear bias in favour of assisted suicide, another objection to its findings is the whole issue of sanctity of life. But leaving both these issues aside, there is another, much more practical, objection to the commission's recommendations, namely, the "thin end of the wedge" argument.

Falconer's commission calls for legalising assisted suicide for those terminally ill with less than a year to live. By why stop there? How long, once it is enshrined in law, that the time limit is gradually extended? Meanwhile, the commission calls for voluntary assisted suicide on the basis of suffering. But who determines when suffering outweighs the need to end a life? And how long before there is a shift away from voluntary suicide on the basis of suffering to involuntary euthanasia based on what a doctor feels is in the patient's best interests? It's quite a short step between calling for assisted suicide for the mentally competent to recommending it as the most humane action on behalf of a terminally ill patient who is mentally deficient. Oh, and by the way, just because a doctor says you're going to die through illness doesn't necessarily mean you will (after all, this is what happened to me when diagnosed with incurable leukaemia 26 years ago).

Meanwhile, how long before terminally ill individuals feel duty-bound to end their lives - despite managing to deal with their own suffering - because of the burden (or inconvenience) they increasingly might feel they are to others or the state? And for that matter, why stop at assisted suicide (or involuntary euthanasia) for the terminally ill? How long before anyone who suffers a serious handicap is permitted to end their life, the presumption being that perfection determines quality and sanctity of life?

In short, legalising assisted suicide represents the thin end of the wedge, a situation which in time would slowly but inexorably broaden the rules to bring ever more numbers of individuals within the realm of euthanasia. We've already seen it emerge across Western society in the last four decades: abortion for serious disabilities, abortions for less severe disabilities, abortion on demand, voluntary euthanasia in exceptional circumstances, and in some cases involuntary euthanasia condoned by the state. Heavens, we already abort babies on the basis of a cleft palate or for purely social reasons. If Falconer's committee have their way, conceivably it's not a giant step from there to genetics and involuntary euthanasia for mental illness or disability (or even to save the state and health service money). Look at how quickly it transpired in Nazi Germany.


Stephen Kneale said...

I quite agree.

Even aside from the clear immorality of it, it is practically not possible to apply according to Lord Falconer's 'safeguards' (a laughable paradox in this case). He wants people to make the decision 'autonomously' but, to do that, requires no outside interference/opinion. As soon as outside interests are introduced (regardless of who they belong to and what they are) the decision is immediately not autonomous!

Nev said...

I appreciate all the arguments about the slippery slope etc but also feel that in the case of someone determined to end their own life, the law should not stand in their way. There's a clear and unmistakable difference if all of the desire to end a life is coming from a person's individual experience and it should surely be possible to allow for this in codifying any new laws.