By David Alton
At a Westminster press conference, the MP for Congleton, Mrs. Ann Winterton, spelt out how she intended to use her opportunity to introduce a Private Member’s Bill. Her announcement ended several days of speculation and heralded the beginning of a crucial new round in the battle over the sanctity of human life. She would, she said, introduce a Prevention of Euthanasia Bill.
The ballot for Private Member’s Bills is an annual ritual in which only the first five or six names drawn in the ballot have any realistic chance of seeing their chosen Bill debated or enacted. Most MPs spend years at Westminster and have never come up in the ballot. They spend their waking hours voting for or against Government Bills – often about issues they know and care little about – while the causes and issues that most engage them never see the legislative light of day.
So when an MP wins a place in the ballot – let alone the coveted first place, as Ann Winterton has done – it is chance which comes once in a parliamentary life to force a debate about an issue which you care desperately about.
During my 18 years in the Commons I entered the ballot every year and on the one occasion my name was drawn, in 1987, I introduced a Bill challenging the Abortion laws.
In preparation for the debates on that Bill I read the Hansard accounts of the original 1967 Abortion Act. The handful of MPs who opposed that legislation, mainly Catholics, were accused of exaggeration and scare-mongering. David Steel, sponsor of the 1967 Bill, said it would not lead to abortion on demand and that it would not pave the way for euthanasia.
Five million abortions later, and with de facto euthanasia now practiced by some doctors and supported by the courts, there is little doubt about who was right and who was wrong. We can add to that legacy the decision, in 1990, to allow abortion up to and even during the birth of a baby with a disability, and laws which have led to the annual destruction of 100,000 human embryos.
Covert euthanasia is practiced in Britain. Subtly and without parliamentary scrutiny or debate we have been moving inexorably towards Dutch style overt euthanasia. In Holland 3,000 people were killed by lethal injection in one recent year – and the Dutch Attorney General reported that of these 1,000 were “involuntary.” Just as abortion for hard cases leads to abortion on demand, voluntary euthanasia leads to involuntary euthanasia.
In recent years the Voluntary Euthanasia Society and the British Medical Association have assiduously set out to introduce euthanasia by the back door – not having the courage to put a full blooded Bill before the House of Commons. Mrs. Winterton may not win but she has brought this phony deception to an end.
Earlier this year the BMA issued Guidelines on withholding and Withdrawing Life-Prolonging Treatment. This not only recommended the withdrawal of assisted food and fluid from several categories of patients who were not dying but also made it clear that it is a practice already in operation in some hospitals and health centres.
Killing a patient by starving them to death or by denying them drink is just as much euthanasia as killing them with a lethal injection. The BMA calls it “withdrawal of treatment” – it goes down better in Middle England.
Mrs. Winterton’s brave Bill now puts these issues before Parliament. A suitable New Year’s Resolution might be a commitment to try and persuade your MP to vote for it.