During the COVID-19 pandemic, GPs were asking whether teenagers with autism and Down syndrome wanted not to be resuscitated amid concerns about pressures on the NHS, according to revelations in the Daily Telegraph.
That disabled people are being singled out in this way ought to sound alarm bells about prejudices both within the health service and society in general.
Yet the drive towards assisted suicide, and possibly euthanasia, continues unabated and on many fronts, most recently perhaps with the Crown Prosecution Service’s proposal to drop a rule requiring “mercy killers” within families to be charged.
More explicit is the Assisted Dying Bill of Baroness Meacher, which has reached Committee Stage in the Lords, as well as the assisted suicide Bill of Liam McArthur, due imminently in Scotland, and in Jersey, politicians have agreed in principle to legalise both assisted suicide and euthanasia.
Added to them are now what appear to be multiple attempts to hijack the Health and Social Care Levy Bill, most openly from Lord Forsyth, who has tabled an amendment requiring the Government to introduce an assisted suicide Bill urgently.
Campaigners are particularly insistent that doctor-assisted death must be part of palliative care – even though professionals within the speciality say time and again that they don’t want it.
Lady Meacher, chair of Dignity in Dying, formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, has even gone so far as to suggest the salvation of the NHS depends on assisted suicide. The NHS, she said in a speech in the Lords, was suffering “the greatest workforce stress since its inception”, with staff burnt out, retiring early, “leaving the service mid-career, reducing their hours, or planning one or other of these steps in terrifying numbers”.
“Crucial to high-quality palliative care is the patient’s right to choose at the very end of life, and the Bill needs to play its part in this area – we cannot afford not to,” she said.
Later, she tabled an amendment to the HSC Bill which says “the regulations must make provision … for anyone with a terminal illness to be offered a conversation about their holistic needs, wishes and preferences for end of life” and that “a relevant authority must have regard to the needs and preferences recorded in such conversations in making decisions about procurement of services”.
Some in Parliament fear this could require doctors to obey patients who request assisted suicide, although Lady Meacher denies this is her intention.
Time will tell whether doctors are to face new obligations – and whether patients will too. Given the treatment of vulnerable groups during the pandemic, along with Lady Meacher’s own justification for assisted suicide, suggests that the leap from the so-called “right to die” to a “duty to die” could be very short indeed.
Patient “choice” at the end of life may turn out to be a cruel and empty promise when, over time, doctor-assisted death becomes the only choice left to make.
This article first appeared in the February 2022 issue of the Catholic Herald. Subscribe today.
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