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The UK must reject assisted suicide

A new parliamentary report debunks the myths of the euthanasia lobby.

Kevin Yuill

Topics Politics Science & Tech UK

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The debate about assisted suicide and euthanasia tends to be dominated by appeals to emotion rather than reason, so it is always a relief to hear from more measured voices. Last week, the UK’s House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee (HSCC) published a new report on its inquiry into assisted suicide. It offers a comprehensive and unusually balanced discussion of the issue – much to the chagrin of assisted-suicide activists.

The HSCC inquiry heard arguments from both sides of the debate and looked at the data from places where assisted suicide is currently legal. Ultimately, the report neither endorses nor condemns the decriminalisation of assisted suicide.

Predictably, this has provoked the ire of some celebrity campaigners for assisted suicide. Former TV presenter Esther Rantzen said that she is ‘disappointed’ by the report and that parliament ‘urgently’ needs a free vote on the issue. Meanwhile, broadcaster Johnathan Dimbleby has criticised the report for failing to recommend decriminalisation. He claims that the UK’s current laws are ‘as anachronistically cruel as capital punishment’.

Plenty of news outlets are also clearly sympathetic to legalising assisted suicide and so they have either lambasted the report or misrepresented its conclusions. The supposedly impartial BBC, for instance, tells us: ‘The Health and Social Care Committee found evidence [assisted suicide] has led to better end-of-life care in countries where it is allowed.’ But it found nothing of the sort.

At best, the report notes that there is limited evidence to suggest that palliative care has deteriorated in areas where euthanasia and / or assisted suicide are legal. However, it does include examples of findings from Canada, where patients who do not opt for an assisted death ‘have reduced access to palliative care’. This holds true in other jurisdictions where assisted suicide is legal. It emerged at the end of last month – slightly too late to be included in the report – that New South Wales, the most populous region in Australia, is experiencing a 30 per cent cut in palliative-care spending. NSW is, as the HSCC report notes, usually considered something of a poster child by assisted-suicide campaigners.

The report also, refreshingly, uses the term ‘assisted suicide’ alongside ‘assisted dying’. Organisations like Dignity in Dying have long refused to use the word ‘suicide’ in their campaigns, opting instead for the more euphemistic ‘dying’. Thankfully, the HSCC report is honest about calling ‘assisted dying’ what it really is. Indeed, how could ingesting deadly poison with the intention of killing oneself be anything other than a form of suicide?

Another argument shot down by the report is the claim that the UK parliament has effectively ignored the issue of assisted suicide. As Lib Dem MP Sara Green complained to the committee: ‘The government needs to dedicate time… to debating seriously and on the basis of robust evidence, the issue of assisted dying. In doing so, it must necessarily recognise that the status quo is unsafe and is failing dying people and their families.’

What Green really wants is for parliament to ‘dedicate time’ for activists to emotionally bludgeon MPs with horror stories about the suffering of terminally ill people, until they give in to the demands of the euthanasia lobby. When proponents of assisted suicide say they want a ‘debate’ or to ‘raise this issue’ in parliament, they are not actually interested in hearing the other side. They don’t want to hear the moral and ethical concerns many people have about turning suicide into a medical treatment. That’s why they have reacted so rashly to a report that actually discusses both sides of the argument.

What’s more, as the HSCC report dryly notes, parliament has actually dedicated plenty of time to debating assisted suicide in the past. Over the past decade, various unsuccessful attempts have been made by MPs and peers across party lines to introduce assisted-dying bills. Most recently, crossbench peer Baroness Meacher introduced the Assisted Dying Bill into the House of Lords in 2021, but this fell through in 2022. In Scotland, Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur’s Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults Bill was put before the Scottish parliament in 2021 and is still being debated now.

The report challenges many of the myths that have been pushed by assisted-suicide activists. Often, we are told that people who disagree with decriminalisation only ever do so on closed-minded religious grounds. But, as the report notes, opposition to assisted suicide is also common among medical professionals. A survey conducted by the British Medical Association found that those working in clinical oncology, general practice, geriatric medicine and palliative care are all more likely to be against decriminalisation than in favour. It is no coincidence that these are the same medical professionals who work closely with those vulnerable patients who would be most affected by the legalisation of assisted suicide.

It is certainly good news that the committee is in no rush to recommend bringing state-sponsored death to the UK. Unfortunately, assisted-dying laws are already set to be introduced to the British Isles in the Isle of Man and Jersey. The two British Crown Dependencies are highly likely to legalise assisted suicide in the next few years.

The UK must resist the pressure from the assisted-suicide lobby and refuse to allow this barbaric practice. And lawmakers must listen to the evidence-based research, not to the emotional appeals of activists. The select committee’s report suggests that, for now at least, reason is winning the day.

Kevin Yuill is an emeritus professor of history at the University of Sunderland and CEO of Humanists Against Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia (HAASE).

Picture by Mufid Majnun, published under a creative-commons licence.

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Topics Politics Science & Tech UK

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