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Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS)

Events in the United
Kingdom: 1999 to 2006

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Activities in England, Wales and Scotland:

bullet1999-DEC-08: According to Maranatha Daywatch:

"A British charity Monday called for a government inquiry into claims that health officials are practicing 'involuntary euthanasia' on elderly patients in an attempt to free up beds in overcrowded hospitals. Age Concern accused the National Health Service (NHS) of 'ageism' and called on the Labor government to keep a pre-election promise to tackle the problem of neglect of older patients." 1

There are allegations that some elderly patients are being deprived of food and water. A second pressure group, Patients in Danger, is considering charging the government in the European Court of Human Rights.

 
bullet2000-APR: Anti-euthanasia bill defeated: An anti-euthanasia bill was defeated in Parliament . Dr. Liam Fox, spokesperson for the Conservative Party expressed alarm at the status of passive euthanasia in England. The party is concerned that orders have been issued that at least 50 patients be allowed to die and not be resuscitated when their breathing or heart stops. The party is calling for clear guidelines to medical personnel.
 
bullet2004-AUG-01: Assisted suicide being studied:
bulletEngland and Wales: A select committee on medical ethics of the House of Lords is conducted hearings on Lord Joffe's Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill. Information is being supplied by a group of campaigners, health professionals and organizations. If the bill is passed, it would legalize physician assisted suicide in England and Wales. The Royal College of Nursing is taking a poll of its members for the first time.
 
bulletScotland: Jeremy Purvis, a Liberal Democrat in Scotland, is drafting a bill to legalize "mercy killing." He is basing the bill on the existing law in Oregon. He said:

"It’s a very sensitive issue and I believe we should be having a debate about this in Scotland. If a draft bill would stimulate that then I would be looking to give notice to put one down. I’ve been looking in a lot of detail at the Oregon experience. What struck me was when the patients made the request to their doctor for physician-assisted suicide, they did so because they wanted to have dignity at the end....It’s very important that we are affording people choices in life to an ever greater extent."
"The select committee in the Lords will be gathering considerable evidence and I don’t think it will be necessarily helpful to duplicate that. But there are differences in English and Scottish law and that is why I think it would be better if the debate was taken forward in Scotland."

The news of the bill was welcomed by pro-choice groups and some politicians. It was condemned by the Roman Catholic Church:
bulletJenny Saunders, a spokesperson for the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, said:

"The current law doesn’t prevent assisted dying, it simply makes this practice dangerous by forcing it to happen behind closed doors where there are no safeguards....It is vitally important assisted dying is brought into the open, so that parliament can introduce regulation to better protect the terminally ill, medical staff and vulnerable people."

bulletCarol Stewart, of the Disability Rights Commission Scotland, said:

"I would be concerned that a bill would not afford disabled people protection from having decisions imposed upon them. That must not be allowed to happen."

bulletPeter Kearney, a spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, said:

"If the issue was debated we would come out very clearly against euthanasia. It’s fraught with dangers. It would give a license for the legalized killing of people, possibly against their will."

The church appears to be unaware of the law in Oregon upon which this bill is based. That law requires the patient to take the initiative in requesting help in dying.

 
bullet2004-SEP-3: Euthanasia group has helped 22 Britons to die: There is a ban on assisted suicide in the UK. However, a Swiss-based group, Dignitas, has helped 22 residents of Britain to commit suicide in the face of extreme suffering. Dignitas was organized in 1998 to help people with chronic diseases to "die with dignity." They have assisted 304 people to commit suicide, about 200 of whom were from outside Switzerland. They have 557 members in the UK. Mark Slattery of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society said: "The British law is less liberal and more restrictive than other western European countries. That means we are more likely to seek assistance overseas." There are problems with this arrangement. First the person seeking to die must somehow make it to Switzerland. This may be a very difficult undertaking if the person is very seriously ill. Second, the spouse or family member or friend accompanying the individual is exposing themselves to prosecution when they return to the UK. The government's Crown Prosecution Service has sometimes taken a long time to decide whether to prosecute the helper: 8 months in one case. Meanwhile, Swiss authorities are considering making foreigners wait six months, often in intractable pain, before they can use Dignitas, in an attempt to stop what they call "suicide tourism." 3
 
bullet2005-DEC-12: Scotland: Private member's bill fails: Jeremy Purvis initiated a private member's bill in the Scottish Parliament "...to allow for a mentally capable, terminally ill adult the right to receive medical assistance to die." By mid December, it had not received the minimum of 18 supporters that would have allowed it to proceed. One reason for this lack of support might be the upcoming 2007 election. There was such a massive outpouring of opposition at the time of "Section 28" -- a regulation governing the teaching of homosexuality in schools -- that Parliament members did not want to inflame the electorate at this time. 4
 
bullet2006-JAN-31: New alliance formed to promote palliative care and oppose PAS: Care Not Killing, a new alliance of 21 organizations was formed to promote palliative care and oppose euthanasia. Members of the alliance include the Association of Palliative Medicine, the British Council of Disabled People, RADAR, the Christian Medical Fellowship and the Medical Ethics Alliance. Memberships are available to both groups and individuals who support their cause. The launch was featured on BBC breakfast TV, the Radio Four Today program, Radio Five Live and the BBC health pages. 5
 
bullet2006-MAY-12: House of Lords blocks private member's bill: Following an intense seven-hour debate, the House of Lords voted to block a bill that would have given terminally ill persons the right to assisted suicide. The vote was 148 to 100.
bulletDr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury  said that:

"Opposition to the principle of this Bill is not confined to people of religious conviction...Whether or not you believe that God enters into the consideration, it remains true that to specify even in the fairly broad terms of this Bill conditions under which it would be both reasonable and legal to end your life, is to say that certain kinds of life are not worth living."

bulletLord Joffe said that a solution must be found

"to the unbearable suffering of patients whose needs cannot be met by palliative care. As a caring society we cannot sit back and complacently accept that terminally ill patients suffering unbearably should just continue to suffer for the good of society as a whole." 6,7

bullet 2006-MAY-17: Motion in the House of Commons:  A motion was made:

"That this House is saddened by the death of the terminally ill doctor Anne Turner who chose to travel to Switzerland to receive assistance to die; hopes that her son and daughters who accompanied her are treated with compassion and sensitivity by the authorities on their return to the UK; is concerned that this is the 42nd case of its kind in the past three years and yet the Director of Public Prosecutions still refuses to publish guidance as to whether family members who accompany their relatives overseas for an assisted death are breaking the law; notes that recent research by Clive Seale from Brunel University has uncovered that, on average, there are eight illegal assisted deaths performed by doctors in the UK every day; and believes this sensitive issue should be further discussed in this House."

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Maranatha Christian Journal is a religious online news source at: http://www.mcjonline.com Their article on euthanasia is at: http://www.mcjonline.com
  2. Liam McDougall, "Holyrood braces itself for Scottish euthanasia bill," Sunday Herald Online, 2004-AUG-01, at: http://www.sundayherald.com/
  3. Daniel Martin and Vikram Dodd, "Euthanasia group may have helped 22 Britons die," The Guardian, 2004-SEP-03, at: http://society.guardian.co.uk/
  4. "Scottish euthanasia bill fails," Care Not Killing, at: http://www.carenotkilling.org.uk/
  5. Care Not Killing's web site is at: http://www.carenotkilling.org.uk/
  6. "Lords reject right to die bill," Daily Telegraph, 2006-MAY-12, at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/
  7. "Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill," House of Lords, at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/

How you got here:

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Copyright © 1999 to 2009, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-AUG-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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