Earlier today, it was announced that a parliamentary inquiry into assisted suicide will take place next year, with a particular focus on the experience of other countries that have introduced the practice. The Commons Health and Social Care Committee will hear evidence from doctors, campaigners, and the wider public before presenting a set of recommendations to the UK Government.
It comes as Scottish parliamentarians are set to debate fresh assisted suicide proposals, brought forward by Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur. A draft bill is due at Holyrood early in the new year, and a Stage 1 debate is likely to take place by March 2023. Politicians in Jersey are also considering the issue, with a public call for views on ‘assisted dying’ proposals currently ongoing on the island.
News of a Westminster inquiry has been welcomed by proponents of assisted suicide. It means the issue of ‘assisted dying’ being forced onto the political agenda yet again. Whether it results in any concrete action by UK Ministers remains to be seen but feels doubtful. Previous evidence-gathering exercises on this issue have tended to highlight competing arguments, without drawing firm conclusions.
For opponents, the inquiry is frustrating. Politicians at both Westminster and Holyrood have closely scrutinised this issue several times in recent years and, as recently as 2015, rejected changes to the law. There has been no material change in circumstances demanding a rethink since then. In fact, nightmarish reports from other countries this year give us more reason to oppose euthanasia.
On Sunday, news emerged about Christine Gauthier, a former Paralympian who was offered euthanasia by the Canadian state when she enquired about installing a stair lift. Her story followed that of Amir Farsoud, who was approved for euthanasia in order to avoid becoming homeless. Another disabled man, Roger Foley, claims he’s been pressured to opt for an ‘assisted death’ due to the costs of his care.
Canada shows that sanctioning death as an answer to suffering can lead to awful injustices, quickly. In the space of seven years, the country’s law has become the most permissive in the world. Anyone who feels they are suffering in a way that cannot be alleviated can get help to take their own life. Proposals have also been mooted for access by children, without parental consent.
European nations like Belgium and the Netherlands also highlight a sinister trajectory in ‘right to die’ laws. Legislation has also expanded in the decades they’ve allowed assisted death. Safeguards have failed. Awful cases have emerged such as a young Dutchwoman euthanised because of mental health issues. And the Belgian 23 year old euthanised because of PTSD in the wake of a terror attack at Brussels Airport.
Campaigners and politicians who want to see assisted suicide in the UK kid themselves that the abuses observed in other jurisdictions won’t happen here due to ‘safeguards’. This is hopelessly naive. The reality is that these laws can never be made ‘safe’. Enshrining a right for vulnerable people facing myriad challenges, pressures, and societal injustices to obtain lethal drugs is a recipe for disaster.
As the US National Council on Disability rightly observes, “if assisted suicide is legal, some people’s lives…will be ended without their fully informed and free consent, through mistakes, abuse, insufficient knowledge, and the unjust lack of better options. No safeguards have ever been enacted or proposed that can prevent this”. The only real safeguard against assisted suicide is outlawing assisted suicide.
The issue of ‘assisted dying’ keeps getting raised in our political institutions, despite the fact it will inevitably open the door to abuse, and injustice against UK citizens. This can’t be allowed to continue in perpetuity. At some stage, politicians need to reject repeated appeals by fringe campaigners who do not care about evidence, or show any concern for those who stand to be harmed by what they advocate.
Politicians need to call a halt to this Groundhog Day and turn their minds fully towards ethical ways of helping suffering people. The sooner they do, the better for all of us.