Monday, July 02, 2012

Battling on for the right to die

There has been a concerted effort in the battle to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia in recent days.

The British Medical Journal had three articles in a recent issue aimed at neutralising medical opposition to euthanasia.

Of 45 motions tabled for the 95-minute session on medical ethics at the annual representative meeting of the British Medical Association, 20 dealt with euthanasia or assisted suicide, 14 of them supporting a relaxation of the BMA's current opposition to assisted suicide legalisation.

Nine of the 14 used almost identical wording, suggesting they emanated from the small minority group Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying, which is supported by Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society).

In the event, only one motion on the subject was debated. It called for the BMA to adopt a neutral position on change in law on assisted dying. Had it succeeded, it would likely have led to a further attempt to change the law in Parliament. It was defeated.

The motion also suggested that "assisted dying is a matter for society and not for the medical profession" - but, said Dr Hamish Meldrum, the BMA's outgoing chairman, "the medical profession is not only part of society, but it would be members of the medical profession that would have to carry out the wishes of society were there to be a change in the law."

Dignity in Dying is planning a mass lobby of Parliament on July 4.

A number of organisations opposed to the legalisation of assisted suicide have organised a rally at Emmanuel Centre, Westminster, tomorrow, July 3. Speakers include Anne Widdecombe, Lord Alton, MPs Jim Dobbin and Fiona Bruce, Dr Peter Saunders, Brian Iddon and Lord McColl of Dulwich. The rally will include an opportunity for people to visit with their MP at the Houses of Parliament. 

Tony Nicklinson, a 58-year-old from Melksham in Wiltshire, took his case to the High Court. He has locked-in syndrome. His mind is in perfect working order, but he is paralysed from the neck down, and he wants permission for a doctor to end his life. If permission were given, it would have the effect of legalising euthanasia.

The majority of people with locked-in syndrome want to live. Because Tony Nicklinson is unable to take a lethal dose himself, his request challenges not so much the law on assisted suicide as the law on murder. Few would fail to have sympathy for him in his condition, but to grant his request would set a dangerous precedent indeed.

As Baroness Campbell, herself disabled with spinal muscular atrophy, has said, disabled people need help to live, not help to die.