Last week, the House of Lords debated Lord Falconers’ assisted dying Bill, which proposes that doctors are allowed to prescribe a lethal drug dose to terminally ill patients judged to have less than six months to live. By the end of the emotionally charged discussion, the House was divided, with 65 peers speaking in favour of the legislation and 62 against.
Assisted dying is a topic that has been discussed in the public sphere for some time, with a number of highly publicised test cases moving through the courts in recent years. But the champions of this proposal do not consider the life-altering effects that passing this law could have on the weak, vulnerable and disabled.
“Care providers and care professionals face the anguish of watching intolerable decreases of independence on a daily basis. However, we should not be drawn into reversing the most fundamental legal requirement because of emotive and harsh cases which will, no matter how numerous, always been in the minority,” commented Paul Ridout, Partner at Ridouts Solicitors.
“Thou shalt not kill, is the most fundamental rule of law and those who campaign for reform are blind to the inherent dangers to patients. The ‘tough safeguards’ supporters speak of will never be sufficient to completely eradicate the chance that the system will be abused and patients will be endangered. The elderly and disabled may be led to believe that they are a burden on their families – we cannot allow the vulnerable to be pressured into an irreversible decision because of this.”
“Be in no doubt – legalising assisted dying is a slippery slope to conspiracy to murder – and there will be abuse as a result. Care professionals, doctors and nurses at all levels and in all areas of the healthcare system will come under pressure to end lives for motives ranging from the truly altruistic to the pure evil, and it will be very difficult to distinguish between each differing, individual situation. We cannot allow ourselves to be deceived into that path.”
“If assisted dying is awarded legality, it is quite likely that doctors will find themselves sued for negligence. If a person wishes to die and a doctor refuses, we could find ourselves in a situation where they are held accountable for loss of inheritance due to the ongoing care fees that person will incur. Healthcare professionals will bear the brunt of this decision-making.”
“Baroness Finlay, one of the country’s most eminent end-of-life peers, quite rightly reminded us of Harold Shipman, highlighting that his cremation forms were all counter-signed by a second doctor. In the wake of his acts, we charged a doctor with murder – in many cases for doing not much more than is being suggested by this Bill – and do not forget, that there were many families who expressed support with his actions at the time.”
“We will never have the resources to risk assess and make informed decisions for everyone who has the misfortune to be in this situation and safeguards may fail. We do not believe that everyone in full control of their faculties can always make an informed decision about their care ahead of time – many do not know how they will feel until they are in that situation. It is all very well for the Lords to say that they would wish to have the power to end their lives, but we maintain that they do not know how they would feel until the moment comes, and they should remember those less articulate, well informed and mentally balanced as themselves.”
Ridout concluded, “Any row back from the absolute sanctity of life is a step too far, not just for a civilised society, but for any society.”