Hayes in the House – why I am against assisted suicide
A civilised society is shaped by how we respond to those least able to stand up for themselves.
The recent House of Commons debate about euthanasia was a confusing one. I appreciate why those who believe individuals should choose when to end their own lives feel they epitomise compassion. After all, nobody wants to watch those they love suffer.
Yet, despite its advocates’ understandable motives, the truth is that assisted suicide is the antithesis of compassion. Allowing people to kill themselves in times of despair means assuming that life is only worth living if it is wholly pleasant - that it is better to be dead than sick, infirm or disabled. In fact, happiness is a moveable feast – great health or wealth provides no guarantee of joy. Often those whom we patronisingly assume must be miserable most cherish their existence. To give doctors the power to take the life of patients based on a subjective measurement of utility would mean a terrifying loss of individual autonomy and personal choice.
There is a real risk of assisted dying descending down the slippery slope of unintended consequences. How severe must someone’s illness be before they are enabled to die? We know that a woman with depression was euthanised in the Netherlands, and the family of a 38-year-old autism sufferer have complained she was killed by request, without required documentation, after ending a love affair. Even more disturbingly - given what happened in living memory in Germany, the Soviet Union, Mao’s China etc - it is hardly unreasonable to fear that a culture of assisted dying could end in the euthanasia of those with disabilities or physical abnormalities or even on the basis of race, religion or belief.
Those who wrongly believe themselves to be a burden on society or their family would feel enormous pressure to take their own life. We should never give vulnerable people the impression that they have a ‘duty to die’. Rather, we all have a duty to care.
Moreover, many doctors are deeply opposed to the idea that they should become judges of life and death, as they’re given, against their will, the responsibility not just to heal, but to judge whether to take the life of a patient.
Palliative care is now so advanced that many diagnosed with serious diseases are able to live enjoyable, fulfilling lives, with modern medicine relieving pain and supporting wellbeing. What’s more, exciting new developments have enabled patients whose prospects would have once appeared bleak, including those told that they face imminent death, to live for many more years than expected.
It is, of course, right that the terminally ill should have their condition managed with compassionate and pragmatic end of life care. No one is suggesting a continual medical battle against death if that is contrary to the patient’s wishes. Everyone has the right to refuse treatment and palliative sedation is already legal.
However, each and every life, regardless of circumstances, has intrinsic worth. Instead of debating the criteria by which state-sanctioned suicide might become legal, we must instead be bold and compassionate, investing our time, money and energy in the best possible care. The mission of the fortunate is to protect those less so.