Saturday, February 02, 2013

No 'slippery slope'? Don't you believe it

This week Lord Falconer announced that he is going to introduce another bill in the House of Lords seeking to legalise assisted suicide.

While such things are in the news, it is perhaps appropriate to mention (in case you didn't see it in the newspapers) the case of Marc and Eddy Verbessem.

The Verbessem brothers were 45-year-old identical twins living in the village of Putte, not too far from Brussels, in Belgium. They were born deaf. They were unmarried; they had lived together all their lives, and worked as cobblers. When they discovered they were suffering from a form of glaucoma that was expected to leave them blind, they feared losing their independence, and asked for euthanasia.

Euthanasia is legal in Belgium "if the patient is in a medically futile condition of constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated, resulting from a serious and incurable disorder caused by illness or accident."

The Verbessems were not terminally ill, and were not in physical pain. Doctors refused them euthanasia because they did not accept the brothers were suffering unbearable pain. Needless to say the Verbessems were able to find doctors who disagreed, and the twins' lives were ended by lethal injection.

Now Belgium's ruling Socialists have announced plans to amend the law to allow euthanasia for children and people suffering from Alzheimer's.

Once the door to legalised killing is opened, it will remain open - and the conditions required to qualify for legalised killing will become wider and wider.

Peter Saunders says that in Belgium half the cases of euthanasia go unreported, half of Belgian euthanasia nurses have killed people without request, one third of euthanasia cases in at least one region are involuntary, and euthanasia cases are now being used as organ donors.

"A report published late last year," he says, "by the Brussels-based European Institute of Bioethics claimed that euthanasia was being 'trivialized' and that the law was being monitored by a toothless watchdog. After 10 years of legalised euthanasia and about 5,500 cases, not one case has ever been referred to the police. . . 

"These latest developments are a chilling reminder of how incremental extension will happen inevitably once the law changes and the public conscience is eroded."

Legislators in Britain would do well to bear this in mind as pressure from proponents of euthanasia continues.