LORD FALCONER's Assisted Dying Bill - the fourth in a decade -
would allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to patients who are
judged to have less than six months to live. I believe that
Christians should treat the legislation with caution.
Even with its safeguards, the Bill is firmly opposed by the
British Medical Association, which predicts that it will place
society "on a slippery slope with undesirable consequences".
Experience from around Europe suggests that this is the
ASSISTED dying and voluntary euthanasia have been legal for more
than a decade in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, and are
deemed "non-punishable" in Switzerland. Poll data suggest that most
people across the Continent now favour some form of euthanasia law
if backed with appropriate rules. But the issue has pitted public
opinion against many local Churches.
In February, when Belgian MPs voted to make their country the
world's first to allow doctor-assisted killing of small children,
the amendment was opposed in an unprecedented show of unanimity by
all main faith groups, who warned that it risked "further
destroying the links existing in society" and "making a banality of
a grave reality".
Euthanasia deaths are increasing by 27 per cent annually in
Belgium in any case: 1816 were officially registered in 2013,
according to the latest data from the Health Ministry. Reasons
given have included blindness, anorexia, and botched operations,
helped by ambiguous legal provisions that say doctors must be
"consulted", but need not agree.
The real figure may be higher. Research published in the
British Medical Journal in October 2010 said that almost
half of euthanasia deaths in the Flemish-speaking parts of Belgium
were unreported, and at least a third were occurring without the
consent of patients.
More recent studies, such as ones in the Canadian Medical
Association Journal and the New England Journal of
Medicine, suggest that lethal doses are also routinely
administered by nurses in Belgian hospitals, in violation of the
2002 law, and often under the guise of palliative care.
The 16-member Euthanasia Control and Evaluation Commission in
Belgium has been co-chaired since its creation by a leading
euthanasia doctor, Wim Distelmans. To date, the Commission has not
investigated a single euthanasia death.
CALLS to extend existing laws are being heard in neighbouring
countries, as death by euthanasia becomes more widespread.
In Switzerland, where assisted suicide and euthanasia are
punishable under Article 115 of the penal code "only if the motive
is selfish", large profits have been made by the Dignitas
organisation, based in Zurich, which offers termination to clients
In the Netherlands, where children as young as 12 can officially
request help in dying, euthanasia deaths increased by 64 per cent
in the five years up to 2010. Under a 2004 Groningen Protocol, new
born babies with conditions such as spina bifida can be killed
because of "their perceived future suffering, or that of their
Dutch newspapers say that eu-thanasia is already part of the
na-tional culture, helped by prominent personalities who have
publicly chosen it, and new rituals such as a "last supper" before
a lethal injection. Two years ago, mobile euthanasia clinics began
killing people by lethal injection at home, free of charge.
EUTHANASIA and assisted dying are not in the competence of the
European Union, whose 1957 Treaty on Functioning encourages co-
operation in health matters, but re-spects the responsibility of
member-states for "the organisation and delivery of health services
and medical care".
Yet pressure to standardise policies and procedures has grown in
areas such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Several judgments by
the European Court of Human Rights have encouraged calls for a
Europe-wide right to assisted suicide under privacy clauses in the
1950 European Convention.
In Germany, where a monument is planned in Berlin to 200,000
victims of a wartime Nazi euthanasia programme against the mentally
and physically disabled, efforts are being made to clarify the law
after the Federal Court of Justice acquitted a woman in 2010 who
had cut off her sick mother's life support in hospital.
In Spain, euthanasia legislation by the former Socialist
government was narrowly voted down in 2007 and 2011. In France,
"medicalised assistance in ending life with dignity" was a 2012
election pledge by the Socialist President, François Hollande. A
draft law, published a month after his victory, is to be debated
"We are all worried," the French Roman Catholic daily La
Croix commented recently. "We want a society that allows
everyone to pass through situations of vulnerability without being
branded useless or costly, or having their life's value called in
question. . ."
RESPONDING to last February's child-euthanasia amendment in
Belgium, which requires terminally ill infants to have made
"repeated requests to die", the country's Roman Catholic Bishops'
Conference said that the prohibition of killing was "the foundation
of all human society".
Yet abuse and neglect of the elderly are already widespread in
Europe, the Bishops argue. The record suggests that laws allowing
euthanasia and assisted suicide will be extended beyond their
original target group, helped by media hype and manipulated opinion
"This new law opens the door wide to the further extension of
euthanasia to disabled persons, people with dementia, the mentally
ill, and those merely tired of life," the Belgian bishops said. "We
insist everything is done instead to combat pain and suffering to
the maximum, and that all professionals and volunteers accompanying
the sick and suffering gain optimal support."
In Britain, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have
promised MPs a free vote when Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill
reaches the Commons, where support for the measure appears to be
The pressure group Dignity in Dying argues that the Bill will
cover only "adults with mental capacity", and will not allow
doctors to kill patients themselves or legalise assisted suicide
for those not dying.
The empirical record suggests that such assurances are
unreliable, and should be treated carefully when it comes to
evaluating this legislation.
Jonathan Luxmoore is a freelance writer who reports from
Poland and Oxford.