More than 200,000 people will die by euthanasia or assisted suicide within five years of a change in the law, a Catholic MP has predicted.
Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, Sir Edward Leigh, the MP for Gainsborough, said a law on “assisted dying” would follow the same trajectory as the 1967 Abortion Act.
He said that any safeguards attached to the Assisted Dying Bill of Baroness Meacher, which will received its Second Reading in the House of Lords on October 22, will soon prove worthless.
The practices of assisted suicide or euthanasia would eventually be practised routinely and effectively on demand, he said.
Sir Edward said: “I give you this prediction and I know I am right – within five years of this Bill being passed – when and if it is passed – there will be at least 200,000 thousand assisted deaths every year just as there are 200,000 abortions every year.
“I think there will be huge numbers. I see with abortions the doctors already bulk-sign documents. There are no controls whatsoever – any control you put on this is absolutely worthless.
“And what about feeling of guilt that will leave on doctors? What about the pressure on doctors to do this?”
He said: “It is particularly true that the essential campaign for abortion was often around hard cases. I stand by my prediction that although we will be told there will be all sorts of controls within five years it will signed off.”
Sir Edward was speaking at a Cornerstone Group event organised by Sir John Hayes, MP for South Holland The Deepings, called “The Meaning of Life’s End – The Threat of Euthanasia”.
He said there would be economic pressure on the House of Commons to vote in favour of the Meacher Bill, which seeks to legalise assisted suicide, and he warned his audience that they could not take it for granted the MPs would reject the measure.
“I am a realist in all this. I am not an ideologue in the sense that I think we should accept death and I cherish life,” he said.
“We have to accept death in many ways. We can’t go on bombarding very old or frail people with very painful treatments which can only prolong a low quality of life for a matter of months.
“I was at the bedside of my friend Piers Merchant, who was a Tory MP. He had pancreatic cancer, he was only 57. I literally heard morphine pumped through his wrists as he died. There is no doubt that the morphine killed him, but it was a humane thing to do. He had terminal cancer. Otherwise he would have been in grotesque levels of pain.
“I didn’t have any objections to that. What I have an objection to is that we should sign a form and we should be given a lethal drug, the same sort of drugs they give to murderers in America which can cause suffering.
“This is not helping people to pass into another world in a reasonably dignified or pain-free way. It is deliberately killing them.”
The meeting was also addressed by Fiona Bruce, the MP for Congleton, and by Devizes MP Danny Kruger, the co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Dying Well who is leading the fight against the Meacher Bill in the Commons.
Mrs Bruce criticised “superficial” opinion polls for presenting an inaccurate picture of the level of public support for assisted suicide and euthanasia.
“There are other polls just asking the public to consider what is at issue and things come out very differently,” she said. “We need to ensure that our MPs are similarly informed.”
She added: “Rather than assisted vulnerable people to commit suicide or administering euthanasia we should be looking to ensure palliative care provision and mental health treatment particularly for those who are depressed.
“We shouldn’t be seeing funding diverted from palliative care as has happened in other jurisdictions where assisted suicide has been allowed.
“More needs to be done here to support palliative care. Let’s keep our focus on that, and our laws should be to protect those who are vulnerable, depressed or disabled as well as all the other people in this country.”
Mr Kruger told the meeting that the Meacher Bill represented a “profound challenge” for “our whole civilisation” because the laws and traditions threatened by assisted suicide and euthanasia formed a crucial “bulwark against tyranny and the absolute devastation of our society”.
He said it was an illusion to imagine that assisted suicide would offer patients greater choice at the end of their lives, arguing instead that it would put more control over life and death in the hands of others and impose a burden upon the elderly and the sick.
The Meacher Bill seeks to allow assisted suicide for terminally ill patients considered as having only six months left to live, with the consent of two doctors and a High Court judge.
Opponents argue, however, that such proposed safeguards are symbolic, unworkable and meaningless and will be removed over time, particularly as they are open to legal challenge on grounds of discrimination. They say the new law will serve principally as a beachhead for swingeing and incremental reforms that could lead to full euthanasia.
The Catholic bishops have written to the laity to urge them to actively oppose the Bill by writing to peers and MPs and asking them to speak and vote against it.
Next week they will be asked to join a novena – nine days of prayer – at the intercession of Pope St John Paul II.
It will conclude on the feast of the Polish pope, a passionate advocate of the right to life, which coincides with the Lords debate of the Meacher Bill.
The Novena Prayer is as follows:
Merciful God, we pray with thanks and gratitude for the great spiritual gift of Saint John Paul II’s apostolic life and mission. Through his heavenly intercession we ask that the ‘Assisted Dying’ Bill be defeated and that the infinite worth of each human person is upheld through proper investment in palliative care. Grant also that we may grow in love for You and proclaim boldly the love of Jesus Christ to all people. Through Christ, Our Lord. Amen
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