Assisted dying: it's a mistake to change the law

by
02 November 2006

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Sir, - The Revd Professor Paul Badham ( Comment, 14 October) argues cogently that there are good reasons for Christians to hesitate before supposing that our faith is unequivocal in its opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia. Unfortunately, he ignores the fact that there are good non-theological reasons for being very cautious about any change in the present law.

The 1994 House of Lords Select Committee on Euthanasia, of which I was a member, warned against any legislation that might undermine the present absolute prohibition against intentional killing, or confuse the aims and role of the medical profession.

A new Select Committee, which reported this year, placed its main emphasis instead on the concept of patient autonomy, and not surprisingly reached a different conclusion. It failed, however, to take into account the extent to which personal autonomy is in practice socially conditioned. What we think of as our free choice is often nothing of the kind, as every advertiser knows.

To legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia would in the long run change the culture within which death is approached, just as abortion has changed the culture as it affects attitudes towards pregnancy. So-called autonomous choices would come to depend more and more on what is expected of us, particularly when we start picking up subtle indications that we are becoming a bit of a nuisance.

There is no need to appeal to theology, therefore, to appreciate the long-term dangers of going down the road Professor Badham suggests.
JOHN HABGOOD
18 The Mount
Malton YO17 7ND

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