Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS)
Events in the United
1999 to 2006
Activities in England, Wales and Scotland:
1999-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
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.
||2000-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.
||2004-AUG-01: Assisted suicide being
||England 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. |
||Scotland: 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: |
"Itís 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. Iíve 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....Itís 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 donít 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:
||Jenny Saunders, a spokesperson for
the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, said:
law doesnít 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."
||Carol Stewart, of the Disability Rights Commission
"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."
Peter Kearney, a spokesperson for the Roman Catholic
Church in Scotland, said:
"If the issue was debated we would
come out very clearly against euthanasia. Itís 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.
||2004-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
||2005-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.
||2006-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
||2006-MAY-12: House of Lords blocks private member's bill: Following an intense seven-hour debate, the
Lords voted to block a bill that would have given terminally ill persons the right to assisted suicide. The vote was 148 to 100.
||Dr 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."
||Lord 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
|| 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
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Maranatha Christian Journal is a religious online news source at:
Their article on euthanasia is at:
Liam McDougall, "Holyrood braces itself for Scottish euthanasia bill,"
Sunday Herald Online, 2004-AUG-01, at:
Daniel Martin and Vikram Dodd, "Euthanasia group may have helped 22
Britons die," The Guardian, 2004-SEP-03, at:
"Scottish euthanasia bill fails," Care Not Killing, at:
Care Not Killing's web site is at:
"Lords reject right to die bill," Daily Telegraph, 2006-MAY-12,
"Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill," House of Lords, at:
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Copyright © 1999 to 2009, by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2009-AUG-17
Author: B.A. Robinson