Welsh Asembly Votes Against Assisted Suicide Bill – Strong parliamentary opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E39xaYdqeX0&list=PLwjFHo9tsCgV8zRRMRNgNwKV68Ka-U3tE

January 16th 2015 Further Debate on the Falconer Bill.  Is this “assisted dying” or “assisted suicide”?

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):⁠


My Lords, I will be brief because I did hear what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester has just said. I understand that the House will want to move to a conclusion but I was very struck by the remarks made a few moments ago by the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, about suicide. I would like to return to that point in a moment. However, I support my noble friend Lady O’Neill for three reasons: the first is because of language, the second because of law and the third because of practice.

On the question of language, the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, being a well known and very accomplished writer, will be familiar with the influential dystopian novel 1984 by George Orwell, who said in it that,

“if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought … It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words”.


The words that we use to describe our actions are crucial. There are so many other examples in law of euphemism, referred to earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, where we have distorted language to disguise the realities of what we are doing. I do not accuse the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, of doing that in his Bill but it is quite clear on page 4, line 11, where Clause 6(2) states:

“In the Suicide Act 1961, after section 2B (course of conduct), insert—”.

So the law will be changed. It is not the Dying Act but the Suicide Act that we are seeking to change.

There is language and law, but there is practice as well. The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, talked about suicide. At an earlier stage, I mentioned that my father was one of five brothers who served in the Second World War. His eldest brother lost his hearing and became deeply depressed. He was very ill at the end of the war and took his own life. I agree with what the noble Lord said about the stigmatisation, particularly of mental health, and the suicides which can follow from it. We must be acutely aware of that.

In 2000, the World Health Organization issued new guidelines about suicide. It said:

“Suicide is perhaps the most tragic way of ending one’s life … Every effort should be made to avoid overstatement”.

Interestingly, given the media coverage of these events, it also said:

“Front page headlines are never the ideal location for suicide reports … Suicide should not be depicted as a method of coping with personal problems … Instead, the emphasis should be on mourning the person’s death”.

This House wisely published a Select Committee report on these questions. It stated:

“Dying is not only a personal or individual affair. The death of a person affects the lives of others, often in ways and to an extent which cannot be foreseen”.

The ending or taking of a life is not a trivial question. We must say what we mean. The language must be clear and we must be aware of what the practice will involve. As I have said in this House before, I wish that we placed as much emphasis on helping those who wish to live by providing assisted living as opposed to assisted dying, especially for those who are vulnerable and feel at risk as a result of this legislation.

Also see – we cannot have “zero suicides” if we allow euthanasia:



Lord Alton of Liverpool:⁠

Before my noble friend, Baroness Campbell, completes her remarks, has she had a chance to read the briefing that was sent to Members of your Lordships’ House only yesterday by the disabled people’s charity Scope, which says—this reinforces the point she has just made—that in the US state of Washington, where assisted dying is legal,

“61% of those requesting to end their lives did so because they felt a burden on friends, family or care-givers”?

Scope says in its briefing to your Lordships in support of the amendments we are considering:

The definition in the Bill of ‘reasonably expected to die within six months’ would capture many disabled people”.:


Lord Alton of Liverpool:⁠

My Lords, I support what the noble Lord, Lord McColl, said. He is one of the foremost medical authorities in your Lordships’ House. We know that many of the royal colleges and the British Medical Association, speaking for 153,000 doctors, say that it is not possible to legislate safely—which is the point that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, made.

However, I recall that when my late father was dying and I went to spend time with him during the last part of his life, the doctor told me that I should make provision for long-term care. After he left the room it was the nurse, who was the wife of one of the policemen who worked in the Houses of Parliament at that time, when I was in another place, who said to me, “David, you don’t need to make long-term provision. In my view, your father will be dead before the end of this weekend”. Needless to say, it was the nurse rather than the doctor who got it right.

Many noble Lords will have read the briefing from the Royal College of Nursing, which arrived only today. It says:

“Terminal illnesses are often extremely unpredictable with periods of improvement and deterioration. This can make it extremely difficult to pinpoint when someone might die … we remain concerned that diagnosing that a patient is expected to die within six months could result in inaccurate judgements through no fault of the medical practitioner”.

That is the point that that noble Lord, Lord Warner, has just made and it could lead to litigation against doctors and nurses if we do not put in far better safeguards than the Bill provides at present.

Lord McColl of Dulwich:⁠

I thank the noble Lord for that intervention. I have been in practice for very many years and I still am. One of the things that always struck me was how wrong I was about trying to predict when a patient would die. I well remember a typical case of a lady who was only 28. She had inoperable cancer of her throat. She was in great distress, with pain and distressed breathing. I saw my job as a doctor to relieve all her symptoms, whatever the cost. I said to her, “If you like, I can put a needle into your vein and titrate you with heroin”. Heroin is a marvellous drug. You have to dilute it in a large volume and not use the small volumes in the ampoule, because if a gun goes off you might suddenly give them too much too quickly. I titrated her and asked her to tell me when all the symptoms had gone. Eventually she said, “Yes, that’s fine”. It was a huge dose of heroin. I had no problem about giving it. The strange thing was, not only did it not kill her, it gave her a new lease of life. It is unrelieved pain that is the killer.


J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

PIPPIN: I didn’t think it would end this way.

GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.

PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?

GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

PIPPIN: Well, that isn’t so bad.

GANDALF: No. No, it isn’t.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

When Denethor is going to kill himself and Faramir in ’Return of the King’, (The Pyre of Denethor), he is not allowed. “Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death,’ answered Gandalf, ’and only the heathen kings, under the dominion of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair, murdering their own kin to ease their own death.”

December 2014:  Welsh Assembly Votes Against Assisted Suicide Bill

Last Wednesday the National Assembly for Wales debated a matter that affects everyone: whether doctors should be licensed to supply lethal drugs to terminally ill people who ask for them.
Campaigners prefer the gentle-sounding term ‘assisted dying’, but in reality they are proposing physician-assisted suicide.
Lord Falconer’s Private Member’s Bill before the Westminster Parliament, if it were to pass, would apply to both England and Wales.
Assembly Members (AMs) were asked to vote on whether they supported the principles of the Assisted Dying Bill.
The answer was a clear and refreshing “No”, it does not support it. Only 12 Assembly Members voted to support it, 21 voted against doing so; 20 abstained.
It was heartening to watch the quality of this debate from the public gallery.
I was particularly impressed by the understanding which many Members showed of a Bill that goes to considerable lengths to dress up what it is proposing in reassuring language (for example, by describing the lethal drugs it would supply to terminally ill people as ‘medicines’) yet makes no effort, beyond stating a handful of vague eligibility conditions, to provide for any serious safeguards to protect vulnerable people from harm.

Lord Falconer’s Bill ‘is not fit for purpose’ says Tanni Grey-Thompson, as the so-called ‘right-to-die’ debate was reignited
The Assembly was having none of this. Speaker after speaker, including some who were not averse to the principle of such a law, drew attention to the gaping holes in Lord Falconer’s Bill.
All spoke with sensitivity and compassion – about for example the impossibility of predicting life expectancy, the ways people in despair can change their views when they get the care they need and the way they can easily come to feel they are a burden.
There were a few misconceptions. For example, one Member perhaps misunderstood House of Lords’ procedures, by implying it had unanimous support at Second Reading. This is completely wrong; opinion on the Bill is sharply divided.
The Bill was allowed to proceed to Committee stage so that the Lords could consider it line by line. Over sixty Peers spoke against the Bill last July, highlighting as AMs did, that it would put many patients at risk.
My own views on this controversial issue are well known. As a doctor who has specialised in caring for dying people for over 25 years, I have seen at first-hand how thousands of people have faced their own dying.
Dying people have spoken to me about wanting to end it all. The vast majority of such conversations are a response to fear or depression, or to unseen pressures or feelings of being a burden. When they are listened to and get the care they need, the wish to die vanishes.
Licensing doctors to supply lethal drugs for suicide is highly dangerous.
Doctors can diagnose terminal illness, although predicting how long people have to live is fraught with error. But doctors rarely know whether there is family pressure on a patient or just how settled a wish to die is.
I have been fooled by patients’ families who were apparently loving but turned out to be otherwise. That is why the majority of doctors, and more than nine out of 10 of those who care for the dying, are strongly opposed to legalising physician-assisted suicide.
I have lived and practised medicine in Wales for 30 years. On Wednesday I felt proud watching how the Assembly handled this difficult and controversial subject


House of Lords

November 8th 2014:

Committee Stage of the Assisted Dying Bill Day One – Full Debate at:


Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, I support very strongly what the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, has just said about the effect of the Bill on medics. I was struck by a recent conversation that I had with one of my sons, who is a fifth-year medic. He very much welcomes the stand that the BMA and the royal colleges have taken in saying that they would not wish to see a change in the law because of the position that it would place doctors in. He argues, as I would argue, that you do not need a doctor to kill you to die with
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dignity. I was very struck by what the noble Lord, Lord Howard, said about the roles that the hospice movement and palliative care can play.
However, I see the point of these amendments and I understand what my noble friend Lord Pannick and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, are trying to do in improving the Bill. It is right that we should, at a Committee stage of the House, take the amendments extremely seriously, as we are required to do. Therefore, I honestly believe that today we should not be pressurised by either time or the thought that we are going to be railroaded into taking votes at this stage. I hope that those who have been calling for greater reflection on the amendments will be listening, too.

My noble friend Lady Murphy said that this is a decision for patients. However, implicit in the amendments is the fact that it is not just a decision for patients. This will require an assessment process. It is not an “on demand” situation, and therefore there is the possibility that from time to time such proposals will be rejected as well by the courts.

My noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup rightly made the point that there will be people who are unable to take these decisions for themselves. That returns to one of the cases raised during the opening remarks of my noble friend Lord Pannick. He mentioned the case of Tony Bland, who went into a persistent vegetative state as a result of the football game that took place at Hillsborough. On Monday, I went to Warrington. I was incredibly impressed by the extraordinary resources and time that have been put into the new inquest process and by the work being done by the Independent Police Complaints Commission in reinvestigating the events. I made my own deposition there.

I was thinking not about the Tony Bland case—although I am well aware of it and well aware of those of my then constituents who died at Hillsborough—but about the case of Andrew Devine, who was a constituent of mine and who also went into a persistent vegetative state. It was predicted at that time that he, too, would die. Of course, Tony Bland was never on a life support machine; he had food and fluid withdrawn—a decision made through the court process. I just reflect that Andrew is still alive and is loved and cherished by his family. Having been in a persistent vegetative state and been told that he would never be in a position to take solid foods again, within a couple of years he was able to do so. Therefore, we have to be careful about prognosis. We have to be very careful in assuming that we will always get these things right.

Every single case matters, and that is what I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, following the intervention made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben. Every single case matters; it is not just about the one or two people who will not be able to take decisions for themselves. Public safety goes to the very heart of the concerns raised by my noble friend Lady Finlay and in the amendment put before us by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile.

I was struck by what Lord Sumption said in the Supreme Court judgment. He said:

“It is right to add that there is a tendency for those who would like to see the existing law changed, to overstate its difficulties”,
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by suggesting that,
“the current law and practice is less humane and flexible than it really is”.
So we are not at a settled point as far as this legislation is concerned.

I have been genuinely surprised that another place has not been given the opportunity to reflect on the extraordinary moral and ethical issues in this legislation, which are also contained in the questions raised by this amendment. One should recall that the Guardian said about the Bill:

“It would create a new moral landscape. It is also, potentially, open to abuse”.

That is what I think the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, seeks to address. The newspaper went on to say:

“Reshaping the moral landscape is no alternative to cherishing life and the living”.

The Daily Telegraph said:

“The more assisted dying is discussed, the more its risks will become apparent”.

That was the point made in the eloquent remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who reminded us today of the pressure that can be placed on vulnerable people. We should recall the speech made at Second Reading by my noble friend Lady Campbell of Surbiton: it is not just the BMA and future medics; it is not just the hospice movement; it is also the disability rights organisation, whose representatives are standing outside this House today. I spoke to them this morning on my way in. They hope that, if we proceed with the Bill, we will do everything we possibly can to put in greater and stronger safeguards. Therefore, I hope that we will have a chance between now and Report to reflect on the different approaches contained in these two amendments and that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, will also go away and reflect on them following today’s debate.
11.45 am

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Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I echo very strongly the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, about the special and sacred relationship between doctor and patient. It is worth reminding the House of what the General Medical Council said unambiguously and robustly: “A change in the law to allow physician-assisted dying would have profound implications for the role and responsibilities of doctors and their relationships with patients. Acting with the
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primary intention to hasten a patient’s death would be difficult to reconcile with the medical ethical principals of beneficence and non-maleficence”.
I agree with what the noble Lord said about relationships, but I also agree in particular with the importance of Amendment 68, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, which is about the importance of independent safeguards. I will speak to it in a moment. I come from a region where Dr Shipman was a general practitioner. He was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, in his opening remarks on this group of amendments. Hundreds of cremation forms were signed by doctors who were not Dr Shipman; they were signed and those patients went to their deaths. That is why we are right to talk in detail about the safeguards that I know the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, wants to see incorporated in the Bill, should it proceed.

I am particularly enthusiastic about what the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said about providing an independent element in this process. I think back to an exchange in a constituency surgery. The noble Lords, Lord Deben and Lord Empey, are right to remind the House that sometimes the exchanges one has on the ground as a local politician can inform the way we think about these moral and ethical issues, on the basis of human behaviour and human nature. Just after the Toxteth riots in Liverpool a man came to see me in my surgery about the death of his father. His father had divorced from his mother. They had lived in Germany and at the end of the war they went to Holland. After their divorce the mother and son came to live in England. After his mother died, the son wanted to be reunited with his father, whom he had not known since childhood. He went to Holland, only to find that, under the Dutch laws, his father, in a state of deep depression, had taken his own life.
What really distressed this young man was that he had a half-brother who had inherited all his father’s wealth and had given permission for his father’s life to be ended.

That reminded me of something that the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, said to us on an earlier occasion. I thought it a wry but very accurate remark. She said that where there is a will, there is a relative. There are profound implications. People can gain from these circumstances. That is why an independent element is so important.

One thing that has united the House is the sense we all have about public protection. For me it is the key question for whether we support the Bill or not. Public safety is the issue. Polling data have been referred to, but those data reduce massively to only 43% approval for a change in the law if people believe that public safety will be compromised. That is the issue that your Lordships have to deal with if the Bill is to go on the statute book.

Amendment 68 takes us to the point where we can have an independent overview of any decisions that are to be made. It builds on what the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said on how we assess the effects of any individual act in the context of society as a whole: how we look at the aftermath of these decisions.

We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Howard, about the role of the hospice movement in palliative care. I am a patron of a couple of hospices, I suspect like many of your Lordships. I know the wonderful work that they do, particularly on Merseyside, which I have been involved with throughout my political life. Every year at one of those hospices there is a walk of witness through the local community, where they raise significant sums of money. It costs a lot of money to keep those hospices going. However, for me, what is really wonderful about those walks of witness is the therapeutic effect that they have on all those who participate. It is a healing process in grief.

I accompanied my father in the last moments of his life. He had a healing moment, believing that he had seen his brother who, as a member of the RAF, had died in the Second World War. I do not know whether this was a near-death experience or whether it was accurate, but it certainly helped him. If he had been given a lethal injection earlier, he would have been denied that moment. I believe that the concept of a good death—the one that historically we have always treasured in this country—could be lost if we proceeded into the mechanistic view that authorised assisted dying would probably introduce. Therefore, for me, safeguards are important.

People have been talking of their own experiences during these debates. My father was one of five brothers who were in the Armed Forces. He was a Desert Rat. One of his brothers lost his hearing and took his own life after the war was over. I remember it even though I was very young at the time. It had a profound effect—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben—on everyone in our family and it still has to this day.

Therefore, the idea that these decisions are purely acts of autonomy and matters of private choice that have no effect on others is simply wrong. Indeed, it was your Lordships who said precisely that in 1994, when my noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant, who cannot be here today but who, in his 90s, still plays a very active part in the House, chaired the Select Committee in question.

I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, has changed her mind since then but she has played a significant part in the debates around these issues over the years, and she, too, was a member of that Select Committee. The committee said:

“Individual cases cannot reasonably establish the foundation of a policy which would have such serious and widespread repercussions … Dying is not only a personal or individual affair. The death of a person affects the lives of others, often in ways and to an extent which cannot be foreseen. We believe that the issue of euthanasia is one in which the interest of the individual cannot be separated from the interest of society as a whole”.

I repeat:

“We believe that … the interest of the individual cannot be separated from the interest of society as a whole”.

I profoundly believe that. There is great wisdom in what the Select Committee said at that time. We have to weigh up that issue as we consider this and all the other amendments that will follow. Are we able to provide the necessary public safeguards? Are we sufficiently concerned about what will happen in the aftermath? And are we sure that we can proceed without safeguards such as the independent element that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, is suggesting to your Lordships in this amendment today?

7 Nov 2014 : Column 1901 Baroness Warnock (CB): My Lords, why is it thought wrong for someone to ask to die out of a sense of duty or a wish not to continue in a condition that is intolerable—the condition of being disruptive, indeed often destructive, to the well-being of their own family? All the way through their life until this point, putting their family first will have been counted a virtue, and then suddenly, when they most want to avoid the trouble, bother, sorrow and misery of disruption to their family, they are told they are not allowed to follow that motive. I simply find this extraordinary puzzling and I would like the noble Lord to explain it to me.
Lord Carlile of Berriew: People with much less strength of character than the noble Baroness, who is known for her views and her enormous strength of character, are at risk of those feelings being adopted, condoned and co-opted by their family. Those of us who have practised law for many years have come across such cases. Indeed, there will be people who have observed it in the lives of friends and family. It is our view that a sense of obligation—“It would be better for my children if I were carried away”—is not a sufficient basis for allowing an individual to do what is anticipated by the Bill, which is deliberately to end the life of another person.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way.

Lord Ashton of Hyde (Con): My Lords, I think it is usual not to intervene before the noble Lord has moved the amendment.

Lord Carlile of Berriew: I believe that I moved the amendment right at the beginning of my speech, so I am very happy to give way to the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful to the noble Lord. I was aware that he had moved the amendment. On the point about the pressure that can be placed on people to take decisions that they might involuntarily be asked to take, does he agree that the “right to die”, as it is sometimes described, can easily morph into a duty to die? I understand the point made by my noble friend Lady Warnock. However, I recall that in 2008 she also said that you can become a burden to the National Health Service if you have something such as dementia and then you can become a burden to society. I am personally disturbed by the idea that we place on people’s shoulders the idea that somehow they are a burden not just to their families but to the rest of us as well.

Lord Carlile of Berriew: I agree with the noble Lord. Indeed, there is a very slippery slope from saying, “I feel an obligation to my family or the NHS” to it being said, “Well, we have to deal with people
who are an obligation to their family or the NHS”. The safety that this provision would introduce into the system is, in my view, very important.
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Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I support Amendment 65 and Amendment 71 in the name of my noble friend Lady Hollins. I also support what the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, has just said. I thought that he made some incredibly important points. We are dealing with capacity, depression, burdensomeness and the ability to communicate. The last point made by my noble friend Lady Masham during her intervention is one that the movers of the Bill need to take very seriously.
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I draw the attention of noble Lords to an Early Day Motion tabled in another place earlier this year. It deals with some of the points in these amendments and states:

“That this House notes the results of the Washington State Death With Dignity Act Report 2013, published on 10 June 2014, which concludes that the number of deaths through physician-assisted suicide has tripled since the first year of implementation and increased by 43% between 2012 and 2013; expresses grave concern that 61% of those who received lethal drugs in Washington in 2013 gave as a reason for seeking assisted suicide being a burden on family, friends or caregivers; recalls that those who introduced the law in Washington assured the public that it would only apply to terminally ill, mentally competent patients; and reiterates its belief that a corresponding change in UK law would endanger the lives of the most vulnerable in society”.

I agree with the sentiments expressed in that Early Day Motion. As the debate continues in the country at large, I hope that we shall have the chance to hear more voices from those who have been elected and who have had direct contact with their constituents.
It is not just in the state of Washington where we have seen things change from often good intentions—I pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, whose motives in this I have never doubted—so that what comes out at the end is not always so. I draw the attention of the House to the comments of Professor Theo Boer in Holland, who said:

“I used to be a supporter of the Dutch law. But now, with 12 years of experience, I take a very different view … Pressure on doctors to conform to patients’ (or in some cases relatives’) wishes can be intense”.

He admitted that he was,

“wrong—terribly wrong, in fact”.
He had changed his mind. Since 2008, the number of assisted deaths in Holland has increased by about 15% every year, maybe reaching a record of 6,000 a year. It is worth pointing out that the law there changed at first simply by turning a blind eye—then voluntary euthanasia was introduced and then involuntary euthanasia. About a quarter of the deaths in Holland every year now are involuntary—that is, without the consent of the patient. These are the facts that we must consider as we consider whether or not we are putting sufficient safeguards in the Bill to safeguard the most vulnerable.

The noble Lord, Lord Deben, was right to point to the often fragile existence that many elderly people have. I saw figures recently that suggested that around 1 million elderly people do not see a friend, relative or neighbour during an average week: toxic loneliness. It is assisted living that we need in this country, not assisted dying. We need people who can help people in that kind of situation.

We have all experienced depression. Winston Churchill experienced the black dog. Depression is prevalent in many of our large urban communities. Certainly, in the areas that I represented, it was not heroin—although you saw heroin on the streets—it was antidepressants on every shelf of every home that you went into in the high-rise blocks, cluster blocks and spine blocks, where people were forced to live in depressing situations. That is why I was not surprised by the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, with all her experience as a former president of the Royal College of Psychiatry.

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I was not surprised to hear what she had to say, but I was particularly struck by a report published in April of this year by Price, McCormack, Wiseman and Hotopf. They said:
“Before mental capacity can be placed so centrally as a safeguard in the process, discussion needs to take place about what exactly is meant by the term ‘mental capacity’ in the new Assisted Dying Bill”.

The Bill does not require any treatment for depression, although it proposes in Clause 8(1)(a)(ii) that there should be a recognition of its effects on a person’s decision-making. It is not clear what that would mean in practice. Would it mean that a patient would have to receive treatment or a psychiatric assessment, or be refused altogether? There simply is no clarity on that key point.

I also draw the House’s attention to the evidence given to the noble and learned Lord’s own commission when it considered the issue of capacity and judgment back in 2006. It said that,

“in the context of such a serious decision as requesting an assisted death, the Commission considers that a formal assessment would be needed to ensure that the person concerned had capacity. The evidence given to the Commission made it clear that there are a number of factors that might affect an individual’s mental capacity, including temporary factors caused by physical or mental illness, and more permanent impairments such as a learning disability. It would be important that such factors were identified and that an assessment was conducted to explore whether the subject’s decision-making capacity was significantly impaired … the Commission does not consider that a person with depression, whose judgement might be significantly impaired as a result of this depression, should be permitted to take such a momentous decision as ending their own life”.
I know that the noble and learned Lord still holds to that view. I commend it to the House.

Lord Avebury: Does the noble Lord prefer the situation that exists at present, in which several hundred unassisted suicides of terminally ill people take place every year?

Lord Alton of Liverpool: The noble Lord is right—and every one of those deaths is a tragedy. That is why I said that we have to intervene to assist in living, providing unconditional care, support and love. Simply to provide opportunities for people to take their own lives does not seem a wholesome or good way for this country to proceed. I have known the noble Lord for a very long time and I know that he would not support that either. Let us therefore be careful not to institutionalise what he rightly says already takes place. Just because something happens is not a good reason to make it legal or more easily available. That is why I support these amendments.

3.30 pm

Debate on whether Clause 1, as amended, should stand part of the Bill.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, given the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, I will take the Committee to the arguments that would have been contained in the group led by Amendment 11. I think that was the guidance that we were just given. Noble Lords will realise that later amendments, Amendments 90, 92, 93, 105 and 122 will be reached when they get there. I will try to keep my remarks fairly short, because I think that the Committee is growing weary.

This is an important question, as are many of those that have been laid before the Committee today. It deals with the title of the clause, which is “Assisted dying”. I would argue that that is incorrect; it is assisted suicide. Those who support the noble and learned Lord’s Bill are at pains to tell us that assisted dying is not physician-administered euthanasia, whereby a doctor administers a lethal dosage of drugs to a patient, but physician-assisted suicide, whereby a doctor supplies a lethal dosage of drugs and the patient swallows or otherwise ingests them. I invite the Committee to look at the procedures set out in the noble and learned Lord’s Bill against these claims.

Clause 4 is perhaps the principal clause in this respect. Its subsection (4)(a) allows a doctor or nurse to “prepare” lethal drugs for self-administration. Presumably this means putting them into a form, such as a liquid, that the person can swallow—in a way, so

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far so good—but subsection (4)(b) then provides for a “medical device” to be put in place to aid self-administration. Again, I suppose that this is fair enough, although rather more precision is needed as to the object of such a device. That is why I have tabled an amendment to that effect.
Then we come to subsection (4)(c), which allows a doctor or nurse to,
“assist that person to ingest or otherwise self-administer”.
Here we really are on the borderline between physician-assisted suicide and physician- administered euthanasia. Subsection (4)(c) raises some important questions. Precisely what assistance, apart from preparing the lethal drugs and perhaps inserting a feeding tube, does “assist … to ingest” include? Does it include, for instance, holding a beaker to the lips of the person? It is not difficult to foresee a situation in which a doctor or nurse supplying lethal drugs under the terms of the noble and learned Lord’s Bill could cross the line, however innocently, between giving the patient those drugs and administering them. Subsection (4)(c) introduces a significant and dangerous grey area into the process of assisting suicide.

The noble and learned Lord has, I can see, recognised this ambiguity in subsection (5), which states that neither the doctor nor the nurse may administer the drugs to the patient, but it seems that as long as subsection (4)(c) stands, the ambiguity will remain. Moreover, subsection (5) says nothing about others administering the drugs, which brings me to my next concern. It is not just a matter of the doctor or nurse refraining from administering lethal drugs. There are others who might be inclined to do so, possibly from altruistic motives. It is therefore important that there is oversight by the doctor or nurse of what happens when the lethal drugs are delivered.
At this point, the noble and learned Lord’s Bill becomes rather convoluted. It states, reasonably enough, that the doctor or nurse must remain with the person to whom the drugs have been delivered until either they have been ingested and the person has died or the person has decided not to take them, in which case they are withdrawn. Yet subsection (6) defines remaining with the person as being,
“in close proximity to, but not in the same room as, the person”.
I understand and respect the noble and learned Lord’s wish to allow a person who is self-administering lethal drugs to die without strangers in the room but we have to balance that against the scope for others to intervene in a way that is not permitted in his Bill if the drugs are ingested without supervision.

We all heard the intervention that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, put to my noble friend Lady Finlay much earlier in our debates about the circumstances in which people might die. I would have thought that the doctor’s presence need not be obtrusive. Apart from anything else, we have to allow for the possibility—this sometimes happens, according to the evidence from Oregon—that complications, such as vomiting or distress, arise when the drugs are taken. The doctor needs to be in the room if that happens.
For me, this is an issue that helps to distinguish between assisted suicide and assisted dying. If it is not the wish of this Committee that we should legalise outright euthanasia—I do not believe that it is—then it is very important that those clarifications are made. While I am unable to move Amendment 11, which was originally on the Marshalled List, that would have been its purpose. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Newby, for providing us with the opportunity while debating the amended Clause 1, which I will not be opposing, to debate some of these questions.

7 Nov 2014 : Column 1945


August 21st: 2014
Oxford University has published a study which looked at trips to the assisted suicide clinic between 2008 to 2012, and found that Britons comprised the second highest number of foreigners going to Zurich for assisted suicide during that period. More dying patients travelling to the Dignitas clinic now have non-terminal conditions such as chronic pain or paralysis and 5% of individuals that had an assisted suicide did so because they suffered from a mental illness.

David Alton

euthanasia images

July 18th 2014 Debate on the Assisted Dying Bill. 6.36 pm

Care Not Killing Alliance interview about the Bill…

Full debate at:

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):⁠

My Lords, since the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, laid the Bill before your Lordships’ House, I have argued that it should be given a proper, considered appraisal in Committee, and nothing that has happened in today’s debate has changed my view about that. This has been a thoughtful and at times very moving debate, on all sides of the argument. However, I express some surprise that the Bill was not laid first before the elected House. After all, it is not as if we have not given this issue any previous consideration.

When the House last asked the question, “Is it possible to allow assisted suicide for a determined few, without putting much larger numbers…

View original post 4,390 more words

Strong parliamentary opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E39xaYdqeX0&list=PLwjFHo9tsCgV8zRRMRNgNwKV68Ka-U3tE

euthanasia images

July 18th 2014 Debate on the Assisted Dying Bill. 6.36 pm

Care Not Killing Alliance interview about the Bill…


Full debate at:

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):⁠

My Lords, since the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, laid the Bill before your Lordships’ House, I have argued that it should be given a proper, considered appraisal in Committee, and nothing that has happened in today’s debate has changed my view about that. This has been a thoughtful and at times very moving debate, on all sides of the argument. However, I express some surprise that the Bill was not laid first before the elected House. After all, it is not as if we have not given this issue any previous consideration.

When the House last asked the question, “Is it possible to allow assisted suicide for a determined few, without putting much larger numbers of others at risk?”, it concluded that it is not. It did so after exhaustive deliberation. The Select Committee, which was chaired with such distinction by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, covered some 246 Hansard columns, two volumes of 800 pages, asked 2,460 questions, considered 14,000 letters, and took evidence in four jurisdictions. Since then, the principles involved and the challenges we face have not changed, and there is no consensus and no settled view, as the debate in your Lordships’ House today has demonstrated.

That is reflected in society at large. Consider just two editorials that appeared at different ends of the spectrum in this morning’s newspapers. The Guardian newspaper said that the Bill,

“would create a new moral landscape. It is also, potentially, open to abuse”.

It concluded:

“Reshaping the moral landscape is no alternative to cherishing life and the living”.

The Daily Telegraph said:

“The more assisted dying is discussed, the more its risks will become apparent”.

That point was made very well by the noble Lord, Lord Wills, a few moments ago.

Another reason why the Bill should go into Committee is that the fear that those remarks underline was revealed in a poll referred to earlier on, published only yesterday by ComRes. Yes; it shows that support for assisted suicide has been at 73%, but as soon as the question is asked, “Would you support it if it jeopardised public safety?” that falls to 43%, which, of course, means that it is entirely evenly matched on both sides. As we know, the actual questions that are asked in those polls are the issue. Prudential judgement is required by Parliament.

As a young Member of the House of Commons I was constantly told that I ought to support, on the basis of polling evidence, legislation against immigrants, to leave the European Union, and to reintroduce capital punishment, none of which I supported, because prudential judgement is ultimately more important than polls.

Public safety and incrementalism are my main reasons for opposing this Bill.

Great play has been made today by many speakers about choice and autonomy. I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, put it incredibly well in her speech. How much autonomy is there in this Bill? I think that the word “assisted” in the title is the key. Who will be required to do the assisting?

It will be doctors, of course, and very few want to do it. One of my sons is training to be a medic, and he tells me that he is deeply concerned about this Bill because of the proposals to change the nature of the healer and defender into the destroyer of life. That is why the British Medical Association, the Royal Colleges, the British Geriatric Society, the hospices and 95% of palliative medicine specialists oppose a change in the law.

We had a reference earlier from my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson to Professor Theo Boer from the Netherlands. He said that he now regrets that on the basis of the argument for greater autonomy and freedom he supported changes in the law there. He said:

“I used to be a supporter of the Dutch law. But now, with 12 years of experience, I take a very different view … Pressure on doctors to conform to patients’—or in some cases relatives’—wishes can be intense”.

Professor Boer admitted he was,

“wrong—terribly wrong, in fact”,

to have believed that regulated euthanasia would work. One reason why he has changed his mind is because of the inevitability of incrementalism. Euthanasia, he says, is,

“on the way to becoming a default mode of dying for cancer patients”.

Since 2008, assisted deaths there have increased by about 15% every year, maybe reaching a record of 6,000 a year.

What of incrementalism here? The 2011 commission of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said that assisted dying should not be offered to disabled people who are not terminally ill,

“at this point in time”.

At what point in time will it be right to offer to end the lives of people with disabilities? How long will it be before it becomes expected? Only today the Secretary of State for Health, the right honourable Jeremy Hunt MP, said that changing the law would “devalue” the lives of people living with permanent disabilities.

And what of public safety? The current law, unlike the Bill, provides safeguards and has rarely had to be invoked. Willy Loman, the central character in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”, takes his own life, and the playwright’s plea is that we pay attention, and that,

“he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him”.

I had an uncle who fought in the last war and, as a result, became deaf. He was a gunner. In a state of great depression—a point referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, earlier—he took his own life. The suicide of people, assisted or otherwise, affects everyone. We should pay attention to the terrible things that mental illness and depression involve and respond with tender compassion and strong laws to deter exploitation, with laws that safeguard vulnerable people. My noble friend Lady Campbell of Surbiton said that this would become a runaway train, and, to that,too, we should pay great attention.

6.42 pm


Why I Oppose The Assisted Dying Bill

Those seeking to change the law are orchestrating a well organised and well-funded campaign to set aside the earlier decisions of Parliament to keep the law as it is – a just law which protects the vulnerable but is also merciful and compassionate. The House of Lords will make an error if it rushes pell-mell into a law which, in due course, will lead to Dutch style euthanasia laws, where it is now lawful to kill the patient without the patient’s consent, or Belgian-style euthanasia laws which include the euthanasia of children. ‬

‪Lest you doubt the danger of incrementalism consider the situation in the State of Washington, which has been detailed in the following Early Day Motion, No 86, in the House of Commons (which you could ask your MP to sign):‬

That this House notes the results of the Washington State Death With Dignity Act Report, 2013, published on 10 June 2014 which concludes that the number of deaths through physician-assisted suicide has tripled since the first year of implementation and increased by 43 per cent between 2012 and 2013; expresses grave concern that 61 per cent of those who received lethal drugs in Washington in 2013 gave as a reason for seeking assisted suicide being a burden on family, friends or caregivers; recalls that those who introduced the law in Washington assured the public that it would only apply to terminally ill, mentally competent patients; and reiterates its belief that a corresponding change in UK law would endanger the lives of the most vulnerable in society‬ ‪‬

Repeatedly, British Parliamentarians have asked the question whether is it possible to allow euthanasia for a determined few without putting much larger numbers of others at risk – and they have concluded that it is not.‬ ‪When the House of Lords considered an earlier attempt to change the law a Select Committee’s inquiry covered some 246 Hansard columns and two volumes of 744 pages and 116 pages respectively. There were 15 oral sessions; 48 groups or individuals giving evidence; 88 witnesses giving written evidence; 2,460 questions were asked and the committee received 14,000 letters. The idea that the issue has not been exhaustively considered is absurd.‬

‪The House weighed the evidence and said it simply isn’t safe to change the law.‬

It is significant that the media frenzy which accompanies this debate never mentions that evidence or the opposition – predominantly on the grounds of public safety – of the British Medical Association, the Royal Colleges of Physicians, Surgeons , the General Practitioners the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the British Geriatrics Society, the hospices and Disability Rights Organisations and the Palliative Care movement – who eloquently set out all the negative outcomes which would result from a change in the law. 95% of Palliative Medicine Specialists – these are the people who care for dying patients day in and day out – are opposed to a change in the law. Are they – or those who oppose a change in the law – all uncaring?‬

‪The Association of British Neurologists warn that severe depression will lead to cases of assisted dying and that a law which says two doctors can determine such cases will offer few safeguards. Do they have no understanding of either patients or law? Are they, too, uncaring and lacking in compassion, opposed to dying with dignity? They know that you don’t need a doctor to kill you to die with dignity.‬

When he gave evidence to the Select Committee the author of the first Bill to legalise “assisted dying” ,Lord Joffe, very honestly said that he saw his Bill as “the first stage.” And Baroness Warnock has given us a glimpse of where future stages will take us.‬

Baroness Warnock has said: “If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.” Suggesting that we have a “duty to die” she said “I think that’s the way the future will go, putting it rather brutally, you’d be licensing people to put others down.”‬

This turns the argument into a worth based on someone’s economic value rather than on their true human value and their human dignity.‬

Imagine what will happen in Britain if the proposed laws are implemented. You have a terminal incurable disease. You have the option of palliative care at £1,000 a week or a glass of barbiturates at £5. What will happen if we accept Lady Warnock’s proposition that “you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.”‬

‪And consider, also, those with a vested interest who will be tempted to put an inheritance before a life. One in eight current cases of elder abuse currently involves financial abuse by relatives. It would inevitably increase if we change the law.‬

Supporters of the Falconer Bill will seek to disguise the word “euthanasia” opting instead for the less graphic and more cuddly idea of “physician assisted suicide” But as one senior retired Law Lord said to me “that’s playing with words and splitting hairs, it amounts to exactly the same thing.”‬

Above all, consider the position of disabled people, like those who have organised the “Not Dead Yet” petition. They believe we have “a hard law with a kind face;” a law which provides protection and safety for vulnerable people; a law which affirms dignity in living as well as dignity in dying.‬

‪Baroness Jane Campbell, who launched the petition, and has spinal muscular atrophy, and has been a Commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, says:‬

“I and many other severely disabled people will not perceive your support for euthanasia as an act of compassion but one founded in fear and prejudice.”‬

‪Do we have a better understanding of how disabled people view euthanasia than the organisations which represent them? Are they lacking in compassion, too?‬

‪The introduction of euthanasia will be cloaked in words like dignity, mercy, compassion and autonomy but the reality will be – doctors who will be required in future to kill patients; disabled people encouraged to believe they would be better off dead; patient safety compromised; and politicians will use the new law as a pretext to withdraw resources from the care of the sick.

The so-called right to die will soon become a duty to die – and to die quickly – and that is why, for reasons of public safety, I oppose this Bill.‬


‪ ‬
Article for The Independent. July 17th 2014.

David Alton delivers the 2012 Tyburn Lecture

I am opposed to the Bill both on principled and pragmatic grounds. I do not believe that the law should license doctors to involve themselves in knowingly and deliberately bringing about the deaths of some of their patients. That would represent a major change both to the criminal law and to the principles that underpin medical practice. Before Parliament could agree to make such a law, it needs clear evidence that the law that we have is defective and, if that is so, that what would be put in its place would be better. On neither count has any convincing evidence been offered.

The Bill itself is flawed with serious defects. It contains no safeguards to protect the vulnerable, just a vague promise of safeguards at some future date. It defines terminal illness in such a way as to encompass large numbers of people with chronic conditions and disabilities as well as terminal illnesses. It contains no compliance system – not even a requirement for a doctor supplying lethal drugs to report. It places responsibility for assisting suicide on the shoulders of a profession that does not want it and most of whose members would have nothing to do with it – thereby placing people seeking assisted suicide in the hands of a minority of willing doctors who know nothing of them. And it ignores worrying evidence from the handful of jurisdictions overseas that have chosen to go down the ‘assisted dying’ road in one way or another.

Disabled people’s organisations, the palliative care movement, the BMA and Royal Colleges representing medics oppose this Bill. They do so, not because they lack compassion but because they know that if you pass this Bill, patient safety will be compromised; and, as time goes by, politicians will use the new law as a pretext to withdraw resources from the care of the sick.

Lord Alton is a Crossbench Peer.

‪ ‬
Also – see a 2013 two-part BBC World Service radio documentary entitled, “When Assisted Death is Legal” and which is available to listen to here:


Assisted Dying Bill: Faith Leaders’ Statement‬

‪16th July, 2014

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth and the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain are amongst the 24 faith leaders who have today voiced their shared concerns about Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill. In a joint statement to Members of the House of Lords they say:“While we may have come to the position of opposing this bill from different religious perspectives, we are agreed that the Assisted Dying Bill invites the prospect of an erosion of carefully tuned values and practices that are essential for the future development of a society that respects and cares for all.”

The leaders and senior representatives are drawn from a broad coalition of Christian churches and denominations, and from the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and Zoroastrian faiths.Lord Falconer’s Bill will be debated in the House of Lords on 18th July 2014. The statement in full, with signatories, is below.To Members of the House of Lords:As leaders of faith communities, we wish to state our joint response to Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill. We do so out of deep human concern that if enacted, this bill would have a serious detrimental effect on the wellbeing of individuals and on the nature and shape of our society.‬

‪Every human life is of intrinsic value and ought to be affirmed and cherished. This is central to our laws and our social relationships; to undermine this in any way would be a grave error. The Assisted Dying Bill would allow individuals to participate actively in ending others’ lives, in effect colluding in the judgment that they are of no further value. This is not the way forward for a compassionate and caring society.‬

‪Vulnerable individuals must be cared for and protected even if this calls for sacrifice on the part of others. Each year many thousands of elderly and vulnerable people suffer abuse; sadly, often at the hands of their families or carers. Being perceived as a burden or as a financial drain is a terrible affliction to bear, leading in many cases to passivity, depression and self-loathing. The desire to end one’s life may, at any stage of life, be prompted by depression or external pressure; any suggestion of a presumption that such a decision is ‘rational’ does not do justice to the facts. The Assisted Dying Bill can only add to the pressures that many vulnerable, terminally ill people will feel, placing them at increased risk of distress and coercion at a time when they most require love and support.‬

‪A key consideration is whether the Assisted Dying Bill will place more vulnerable people at risk than it seeks to help. We have seen, in recent years that even rigorous regulation and careful monitoring have not prevented the most serious lapses of trust and care in some parts of the NHS and within a number of Care Homes. It is naïve to believe that, if assisted suicide were to be legalised, proposed safeguards would not similarly be breached with the most disastrous of consequences, by their nature irrevocable.‬

‪The bill raises the issue of what sort of society we wish to become: one in which life is to be understood primarily in terms of its usefulness and individuals evaluated in terms of their utility or one in which every person is supported, protected and cherished even if, at times, they fail to cherish themselves. While we may have come to the position of opposing this bill from different religious perspectives, we are agreed that the Assisted Dying Bill invites the prospect of an erosion of carefully tuned values and practices that are essential for the future development of a society that respects and cares for all. Better access to high-quality palliative care, greater support for carers and enhanced end of life services will be among the hallmarks of a truly compassionate society and it is to those ends that our energies ought to be harnessed.

Signatories:Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia, Chairman, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha‬

‪Mr Yousif Al-Khoei, Director Al-Khoei Foundation‬

‪Rev Dr Martyn Atkins, General Secretary of the Methodist Church and Secretary of the Conference‬

‪Bishop Eric Brown, Administrative Bishop, New Testament Church of God‬

‪Mr Malcolm M Deboo, President, Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe‬

‪Rev Jonathan Edwards, Deputy Moderator Free Churches Group‬

‪Pastor John Glass, General Superintendent, Elim Pentecostal Churches‬

‪Revd David Grosch-Miller and Mr John Ellis, Moderators of the United Reformed Church General Assembly‬

‪Colonel David Hinton, Chief Secretary, The Salvation Army United Kingdom‬

‪Rev Stephen Keyworth, Faith and Society Team Leader, Baptist Union of Great Britain‬

‪Ayatollah Fazel Milani, Dean of the International Colleges of Islamic Studies‬

‪Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth‬

‪Most Rev Dr Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales‬

‪His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster‬

‪Rev John Partington, National Leader, Assemblies of God‬

‪Mr Ramesh Pattni, Secretary General, Hindu Forum of Britain‬

‪Bishop Wilton Powell, National Overseer, Church of God of Prophecy‬

‪Maulana Shahid Raza OBE, Leicester Central Mosque, Leicester‬

‪Venerable Bogoda Seelawimala, Chief Sangha Nayake of Great Britain, London Buddhist Vihara‬

‪Dr Shuja Shafi, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain‬

‪Dr Natubhai Shah, Chairman/CEO Jain Network‬

‪Lord Indarjit Singh, Director Network of Sikh Organisations (UK)‬

‪Most Rev and Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury‬

The Guardian view on assisted dying: safeguard life
Lord Falconer’s bill sounds modest but it will redraw the moral landscape

Guardian editorial:

The law against killing someone is absolute. The law that makes it illegal to help someone to die is also clear, retained in the 1961 legislation that first removed the criminal taint from suicide itself. But the ever-expanding capacity of medicine to keep people alive even when they want to die has led to the forging of some opaque compromises between real life and the law. The current situation is unquestionably messy. But it does not follow that it will be easy to tidy up.

Lord Falconer’s bill on assisted dying tries to bring clarity to one narrowly defined area. For the benefit of a very specific group of people, it asks that the law modifies what has until now been an absolute principle: the safeguarding of human life. In individual cases, that can seem the overwhelmingly compassionate decision. Nevertheless, and heartbreaking though such cases can be, the absolute principle is too important to jettison.

The courts have been repeatedly challenged to declare that it is within the law to help someone to die. Most often – as in the case of Debbie Purdy or the late Tony Nicklinson – they are victims of an illness which prevents them, or may in future prevent them, from taking their own lives, and they want the courts to rule that anyone who helps them would not be prosecuted. Ms Purdy won the right for her partner to accompany her to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland without fear of prosecution. Mr Nicklinson’s wife lost the argument, begun before her husband died,that doctors should be able to help her husband end his life. Last month, the supreme court warned that either parliament must clarify the law, or it would.

The Falconer bill would not make any difference at all in these high-profile legal battles. It applies only to people who are terminally ill, whose doctors believe they have less than six months to live. It specifies that two doctors must certify that the patient is mentally capable of taking the decision, and that they are of settled mind. There is a cooling off period. The patient must be able to administer the medication themselves. But it legitimises the supply of the lethal dose of medication by a health professional, in a form that the patient can ingest.

This is a clarification of the outstanding area of uncertainty in the guidelines that the DPP drew up in February 2010 setting out the circumstances in which there might be a prosecution of someone who had helped another to commit suicide. The effect of the Falconer bill is to end in law the bar on helping to kill someone. In any given case, that may seem a necessary price to pay for an end to the extreme suffering that can only be escaped in death. There have recently been many intensely moving descriptions by people who have been witness to those moments, or who fear that they will experience them personally.

But most of us do not live or die alone. Death is never a completely private matter, as anyone who has experienced the suicide of someone close would testify. Nor is the value of life something that can be assessed independently of family and friends, or of wider society, as the bishop of Worcester argues on these pages today. Making their involvement legal will test all those relationships at a time when they are at their most vulnerable.

It would create a new moral landscape. It is also, potentially, open to abuse or, as those with experience of nursing elderly relatives will recognise, to the fear of abuse. Lord Falconer’s bill echoes the law in Oregon which has been in force since 1997. Last year, just 0.2% of deaths in the state followed a prescribed lethal dose. This is a benefit for a very few, at the cost of a very big moral change. What is more, it may not even be necessary. In his judgment on the Nicklinson case, Lord Sumption argued that the law is considerably more humane and flexible than many of those who argue for reform appear to recognise.

Too many campaigners dismiss it, but better end-of-life care can help. Reshaping the moral landscape is no alternative to cherishing life and the living

Daily Telegraph editorial:
An unhealthy Bill
The Bill to legalise assisted dying turns the ethics of the medical profession upside down

Today, the House of Lords debates a Bill to legalise assisted dying in the case of the mentally capable with less than six months to live. Its supporters are doubtless well motivated, but their proposal represents a path better not taken.

The proponents of assisted dying are keen to cast it as a civil rights issue, as though this is a freedom unjustly denied. Yet the idea that this is a great progressive cause is undermined by the nature of the opposition to it, which includes disability activists and doctors, who argue that it would put the vulnerable at risk. In reality, the issue at stake is whether doctors should be allowed to assist in someone’s death. Such a reform would turn the ethics of the medical profession upside down, creating a legal framework wide open to accident or abuse.

The problems with the Bill are many. Few doctors would be willing to make a prognosis about life chances, given the possible consequences; and such prognoses often turn out to be wrong. Even if patients are mentally competent, will they always be totally free from external pressure? The terminally ill may conclude that they are a burden to those around them and feel compelled to choose death. It is also argued that assisted dying will be permitted only in limited circumstances – but in the Benelux countries, these have widened to the point where euthanasia has essentially become normalised.

Even if the Bill is thrown out, it remains important to continue the debate over one of the most personal matters that politics can touch upon. In today’s Telegraph, Lord Lloyd-Webber tells us of the productive years that his terminally ill mother might have lost had such a law been passed, and of his own struggle with the issue. The more assisted dying is discussed, the more its risks will become apparent.


Some contributors to the House of Lords debate said that because we put down dogs that are in pain we should do the same to humans. it’s worth noting that last year, according to the Dogs Trust, 10,000 dogs were destroyed – put down because they had been abandoned or were unwanted, not because they were sick. How long will it be before we apply the same attitudes to unwanted or abandoned human beings?


Why Britain Needs The Sharp Compassion of the Healer’s Art Maranatha Lecture October 3rd 2012. Manchester.


Click on this link for the power pont presentation which accompanies this lecture and which is in the Media section of the web site.

Click on the linkbelow for a link to the video recording of the lecture:


Why Britain Needs The Sharp Compassion of the Healer’s Art

Maranatha Lecture October 3rd 2012. Manchester.

David Alton


I am very pleased to have been asked to deliver this Maranatha Lecture tonight, especially as it gives me the opportunity to thank Dennis and Sheila Wrigley for their friendship and encouragement over these past 40 years.

Let me also thank Kevin McKenna for his work in organising tonight’s event.

Maranatha’s call for unity, renewal and healing has always been close to my heart and although all three of those words are each worth an entire lecture I have chosen tonight to concentrate on the damaged and wounded world in which we live and the need for healing in our own lives; in our families; in our communities and in our nation.


Explaining the title of the Lecture


For the lecture’s title I have used a phrase which appears in T.S.Eliot’s Four Quartets – the second of which is called East Coker.

East Coker is a village in Somerset, mentioned in the Doomsday Book and with evidence of Roman habitation.   Eliot’s ancestors came from the village and his ashes were brought there after his death in 1965.

Eliot, an American who took British citizenship and went on to win the Nobel Prize for poetry,  visited the village in 1940, as war raged throughout Europe; and it was against this fiery and chaotic background, and in this context of a nation facing catastrophe, that Eliot composed  East Coker:

“The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art”

The Four Quartets  (“Burnt Norton,” “East Coker,” “The Dry Salvages,” and “Little Gidding”) are the clearest and richest exposition of Eliot’s Christianity and move us beyond the spiritual desiccation and sense of defeat represented in  his 1922 poem, “The Waste Land” and deftly take the reader from chaos to renewal, from damage to healing, from despair to hope.

The wounded, bleeding, surgeon capable of treating the distempers and afflictions visited upon us is Christ, the true physician: the wounded healer who applies the hard steel of the scalpel to cut away the infected and gangrenous decaying tissue.

Bloody and risky though it can be, exposing ourselves to this sharp compassion is the only way to new life and new hope.   East Coker is a call to put ourselves trustingly into God’s hands.

Anyone who has undergone surgery will concur – and I had surgery on my spine last year – the decision to place yourself in the healer’s hands requires careful deliberation and total trust. This is easier said than done in a world which encourages us to be autonomous and to believe that your destiny is in your own hands alone.

A twelfth century Welshman, Walter Map, understood that the hard sharpness of the surgeon’s implements is a prerequisite in the accomplishment of healing: “Dura est manus cirurgi, sed sanans:  The hand of the surgeon is hard, but healing.”

That Eliot had the healing of the nation in mind, as well as each of us as individuals, is clear from the war time context in which the poem was written. It contains profound insights into the human condition and the suffering from which none of us is immune.

East Coker is a poem about agonised redemption.

The Problem of Pain


It was written in the same year that his contemporary, C.S.Lewis, composed “The Problem of Pain”.   Like Eliot, Lewis, too, was trying to make sense of the troubling and unsettling perennial question of how belief in a loving and omnipotent God may be reconciled with the existence of suffering.

It was a problem which particularly disturbed my father, who fought at El Alemain and Monte Casino, and whose brother, an airman, was killed in 1942. How could God allow such terrible suffering? The temptation is always to blame God.

Why do some people die in car accidents and others do not? Why does a child get abducted or abused, and others do not?  Why do some families face starvation, civil war, life as refugees or become homeless, and others do not? Why were some of us among the tube passengers killed on July 7th 2005 by terrorists but others not?  Why Hitler, why Stalin, why Syria, or Congo?  Last week I stood at the River Tumen, in North East China. It’s the border with North Korea, where escapees are shot dead by border guards if they try to cross the river. Why them and not us? Why are Christians persecuted in Nigeria, Sudan, and 60 other countries, but not us?  Why do terrible things happen to good people but not others?

Straightforwardly, none of us know the answer to this “why” question. Our faith is simply incapable of giving us all the answers to these and other vexed questions.

In St.Matthew’s Gospel we are told He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt: 5, 45) and no explanation is given as to why this is so. Our faith simply gives us the strength to live with the unanswered and unmediated questions which besiege us.

Even if we did know the answers, our loved ones would still be sick or dead, others would be hungry or living in fear, and evil would still be stalking the world.

It could be that we have been looking in the wrong place and asking the wrong questions.

Asking the Right Questions

Discovering the healer and His art enables us to find peace about the questions which cannot be resolved while questions like “what”, “how” and “who” – as in “what can I do to help?; “how should I put my private faith into public action?” and “who is my brother and my sister?” will deliver answers worth having.

It is against a questioning and doubting backdrop that Eliot writes the memorable stanzas of The Four Quartets – his last poem.

East Coker encourages us to spend less time wrestling with the question “why?” and to place ourselves instead in the hands of a “wounded surgeon” who is bloodied and wounded so that we might experience healing. The powerful metaphor of Christ as the wounded surgeon is accompanied by the metaphor of “the dying nurse” to   describe a Church which helps us pass through birth, life and death into Christ’s promise of eternal life.

Eliot understands that “time is no healer: the patient is no longer here” and that some questions are beyond answer.

Against the loss and pain experienced by so many, Eliot tells us that “in my beginning is my end” and that “There is only the fight to recover what has been lost and found and lost again and again”.

None of this may seem propitious but the poet reflects that “perhaps neither gain nor loss, For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”

Eliot concludes East Coker with words drawn from the fourteenth century English mystic and anchoress, Julian of Norwich, who at the age of 31, while suffering from a severe illness and believing she was on her deathbed, had a series of intense visions of Jesus. Eliot writes that despite the unanswered questions:

“And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one”


East Coker was written at a time of utter uncertainty for this nation.It was composed as Winston Churchill was telling the House of Commons, on June 18th 1940, that “the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.”

It was written as the German High Command announced that ‘The British army is encircled and our troops are proceeding to its annihilation’.

It was written as King George VI, on May 26th called the nation to prayer and repentance – following which Hitler ended his general advance; a storm of great fury grounded the Luftwaffe; and, as calm settled on the Channel, some 335,000 men of the British army were evacuated from Dunkirk.

It was written as the German Air Force, that summer,  would send 800 aircraft to begin their systematic and lethal bombardment of our cities.

The survival of Christian civilisation.


In preparing the nation for the battle which lay ahead, Churchill cast up what he called “this dread balance sheet” which pulled no punches in carefully assessing the scale and the nature of the threat which faced our country at the hands of the Nazis:

“Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization.  Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.

“But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, this was their finest hour.”

In every generation new battles have to fought; new enemies to be faced.  Eliot wrote that “Houses live and die: there is a time for building And a time for living and for generation.”  Healing and renewal will go together.

Facing Today’s Challenges

The challenge today may not be aerial bombardment  but what Churchill called the survival of Christian civilisation, our British way of life, the freedoms and liberties which we cherish, must be defended in our own and in every time.

In the debris of wrecked and ruined homes, of prematurely ended lives, of embattled and frightened communities, must come the same desire to move towards the sunlit uplands and to do this we will need more than ever “the sharp compassion of the healer’s art.” Only then shall in Mother Julian’s phrase shall“all manner of things be well.”

So much, then, for the ispiration behind the title of this lecture. What if, like Churchill, we were to examine the dread balance sheet of Britain today?


Christianity and Social Order


In 1942, while we remained at war, Archbishop William Temple published his “Christianity and Social Order”.  He insisted that “The Church must announce Christian principles and point out where the existing social order at any time is in conflict with them. It must then pass on to Christian citizens…the task of re-shaping the existing order in closer conformity to the principles.”

That is the challenge, too, for this generation.

The Dread Balance Sheet in 2012


To utilise Churchill’s phrase, if we carried out an evaluation of Britain today how would our Dread Balance Sheet appear?

A faithless society has become an atomised, lonely, and selfish society; a faithless society has become a culturally diminished society; a faithless society has become a fatherless society and a broken family society. What has been done in the name of freedom has created a world of CCTV cameras; to high streets which have become no go areas after dark; and to binge drinking and shelves full of anti depressants. How has this made us freer or happier? In 2006 a report by University College, London stated that “The UK has the worst problem with anti-social behaviour in Europe.”   It has increasingly felt like a world rapidly going to hell in a basket.


The Children Test

A good place to begin in examining the Dread Balance Sheet would be to ask how British children fare in Britain 2012.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer once remarked that “The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children”
The Dread Balance Sheet would reveal that three-quarters of a million British children have no contact with their fathers following the breakdown of their relationships.

A quarter of our children live with one parent, not two, and a third of these live below the poverty line. Many single parents struggle valiantly – and some very successfully – to bring up their children. But I doubt that many believe their situation is better than having two parents to shoulder the responsibility.

Men particularly need to understand that you may be able to walk away from your girlfriend or to divorce your wife but you can’t divorce your children and to them you have an unending responsibility.

In 2002 the think tank, Civitas, in a report entitled “Experiments in living: the fatherless family”, found that children being brought up without a father are more likely to live in poverty and deprivation; to have emotional or mental problems; to have trouble at school; to have trouble getting along with others; to have a higher risk of health problems; that they are more likely to run away from home and are likely to be at greater risk of suffering physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet reveals that, according to the Children’s Society, 100,000 children run away from home every year.

Save the Children says that 3.9 million children are living in poverty and that a staggering 1.7 million children are living in severe, persistent poverty in the UK-which is, after all, one of the richest countries in the world. Every day 4,000 children call Childline. Since it was founded in 1986, it has counselled more than a million children.

The Child In The Womb

Before they are born, each day we abort 600 of our children, some up to birth if they have a disability or defect such as a cleft palate or Down’s Syndrome. Blessed John Paul II once observed that “a nation that kills its own children is a nation without hope” and that “A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members and among the most vulnerable are surely the unborn and the dying,”

The latest abortion statistics reveal that taxpayers spent £118m on abortions in 2010, of which £75m went to private clinics; that of 6.3 million abortions, just 143 were where a woman’s life was in danger; and that 48,000 people have had more than one abortion– some as many as eight. In the north west of England 24,933 people had between 2 and 10 abortions.

And consider three recent reports.

The first concerns a group of ethicists linked to Oxford University who argue that newborn babies are not “actual persons”, don’t have “a moral right to life” and can legitimately be killed after they are born. It’s called infanticide although they prefer the euphemism “after birth abortion.” A child is then represented as a threat rather than as a blessing:  


   The second, the result of investigative journalism at its best, revealed how nine British abortion clinics were willing to abort babies on the grounds of their gender. The Health Secretary branded it immoral and illegal but The British Medical Journal blog carried an article stating that sex-selection abortions were justified on the grounds of “choice”.

   The blog asserts that “health professionals, and everyone who is pro-choice on abortion, should support pro-choice doctors and women seeking abortions, whatever their reasons, even when sex selection may be involved.”

 “Our Kingdom” – a group which includes doctors, writes supporting this view: “… sex selective abortion is not gender discrimination. Gender discrimination applies only to living people.”


   Once more there’s a chilling logic. It just a question of “my right to choose” – the slogan against which all our values are now shaped. The mantra puts “me” centre stage, not the needs of another; it promotes “rights” not duties; and it admires “choice” without a thought for the consequences. 


  Personal choice has eclipsed the sacredness, or otherness, of life itself. It is profoundly disturbing, indeed shocking, to see the way in which opinion formers within the medical profession have ditched the traditional belief of the healer to care for two patients, the child and its mother, and to unfailingly uphold the sanctity of human life.  Gender abortions are justified by this choice-driven, impoverished, and inhumane defence of child destruction.  

  The third story concerns a Court ruling that Catholic midwives may not object, on grounds of conscience, to being required to supervise or assist staff involved in abortions.

For me, forcing unwilling people to be complicit in the taking of innocent life smacks of neo-fascism, not intelligent or tolerant liberalism.

All we need to comprehend about abortion can be found in the words of the Fifth Commandment.

Apply those words to the eugenics used to kill 90% of babies with Down’s Syndrome in the womb – 90% of whom are now hunted down and aborted before their births. Now we’re now seeing attempts to eliminate them and to let them die rather than treat them in our NHS Hospitals.

Is this the same NHS that we were celebrating in the Olympic Stadium? What a contrast, too, with the inspirational achievements of disabled athletes, during the Paralympics celebrated in the same stadium, and who have taught us so much about courage and the overcoming of seemingly impossible odds.

As we rush pell-mell into Nietzschean-style eugenics and ethics, we should recall those inspirational moments, remembering that people with Down’s Syndrome are human beings – not “a drain on public finances”; that disabled people would not be “better off dead” and that by allowing the elimination of the weak it is we who expose ourselves as the truly weak

Remember the sharp compassion of the healer’s art not the surgeon’s knife, or hypodermic syringe, used to hunt you down and kill you. Doctors should always be defenders of life not its destroyers.

Victor Frankl in The Doctor and the Soul said “sometimes the unfinished are among the most beautiful of symphonies.”  One in five of our children remain“unfinished”, not making it to birth and many of those who do, never experience the beauty of innocence or hope.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet reveals that if you abuse and kill the child in the womb you are unlikely to have much respect for the child after birth.

Life After Birth


Consider that five million images of child abuse are in circulation on the internet, featuring some 400,000 children. In Edinburgh, figures published in 2010 showed a 75 per cent increase in the number of babies addicted to drugs because of their mothers’ addiction.

Last year, Samaritans answered 4.6 million calls from people in despair, which is one call every seven seconds.  Samaritans say that ‘A conservative estimate is that there are 24,000 cases of attempted suicide by adolescents (10-19 years) each year in England and Wales, which is one attempt every 20 minutes” As they grow up suicide accounts for 20 per cent of all deaths among young people aged 15 to 24.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet would reveal that more than 140,000 people attempt to commit suicide every year; that 29.4 million anti-depressants were dispensed in one recent year – a 334 % increase since 1985 at a cost to the National Health Service of £338 million; that 7 million are now living alone in Great Britain – entirely unprecedented in our history.

26% of British households comprise just one person and on present trends, by 2016, 36% of all homes will be inhabited by a single person – a trend accelerated by family breakdown and phenomenal divorce rates – the highest in Europe.

This has led to huge pressures for additional accommodation and to toxic loneliness.


How we treat the elderly: better off dead


Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet also reveals that our treatment of elderly people is fast becoming a national scandal, with an estimated 1 million elderly people who do not see a friend or neighbour during an average week.

I was in China last week a country which still shows respect for the elderly. Here we talk endlessly about making it easier to kill the elderly by legalising euthanasia.

Instead of the sharp compassion of the healer’s art many legislators now believe that a lethal injection would be preferable.

A new Bill to legalise assisted dying is to come before Parliament and last week the Liberal Democrats said that we should introduce Dutch and Belgian style euthanasia laws.

Consider what this will mean.

In Belgium there are calls for euthanasia for prisoners and it is reported that they have been harvesting organs from people who have been euthanized.

In Holland statistics indicate that the number of euthanasia deaths in 2011 in the Netherlands increased by 18% to 3,695. This follows increases of 13% in 2009 and 19% in 2010. Euthanasia now accounts for 2.8% of all Dutch deaths. A House of Lords Inquiry in 2005 predicted  that Dutch-style Liberal Democrat laws would lead to 13,000 euthanasia deaths annually in Britain.

The proposed new British law would use the framework and provisions of the 1967 Abortion Act as a template – paving the way for the same outcomes. Instead of approaching seven million unborn children, it will be legions of disabled, sick and elderly people whose lives will be ended.

The proposals will be disguised with words like compassion and dignity but the reality will be doctors who will be required in future to kill patients; disabled people made to believe they would be better off dead; patient safety compromised; and politicians using the new law as a pretext to withdraw resources from the care of the sick.

Far from providing dignity in dying these proposals will sound the death knell for Britain’s outstanding hospice movement and palliative care. To die with dignity we don’t need doctors to kill us. The so-called right to die will soon become a duty to die quickly!
The Bill is to be based on the findings of Lord Falconer’s Commission on Assisted Dying.
Hopelessly biased and distorted, the Falconer Commission was stacked full of euthanasia sympathisers and was established by Dignity in Dying (formerly The Voluntary Euthanasia Society).
The British Medical Association (BMA) – who oppose any change in the law – passed a 5 point resolution that undermined the Commission credibility by questioning its impartiality and independence.

The euthanasia lobby decided to set up their Commission because when two genuinely independent Parliamentary Select Committees carefully examined the issue they did not recommend a change of law.

When votes were then taken in the House of Lords it resulted in large defeats for their proposals (148-100 and 194-141). The last attempt at legalization in Scotland also resulted in a heavy defeat (85-16) for Margo Macdonald’s Bill in 2010.

For the record, and to give some idea of the scale of the parliamentary Inquiry, the Select Committee covered some 246 Hansard columns and two volumes of 744 pages and 116 pages respectively, 15 oral sessions, 48 groups or individuals giving evidence, with 88 witnesses giving written evidence; 2,460 questions were asked and the committee receiving 14,000 letters. Compare the coverage given by the BBC and others to the parliamentary Inquiry with the media circus and feeding frenzy generated by the Falconer Commission.

An unbiased and impartial account of this debate might mention the opposition to a change in the law expressed in Parliament – predominantly on the grounds of public safety – and by the British Medical Association, the Royal Colleges, the hospices and Disability Rights Organisations – who eloquently set out all the negative outcomes which would result from a change in the law.

There is a systematic propaganda campaign being orchestrated by the media aimed at changing the law and for several years we have been treated to a barrage of propaganda. Even the BBC’s Radio Times joined the pack, claiming on its cover that watching a man die in Switzerland would be “5 minutes of television that will change our lives”.

The sub editor who chose that caption perhaps failed to appreciate its irony: that the 5 minutes it took to change our lives, irredeemably ended another’s life.

The BBC are in danger of being reduced to the role of mere cheerleaders, producing five programmes in the past three years in favour of a change, while signally failing to present the other side of the argument. But this isn’t just about bias.
The BBC’s recent programmes celebrating assisted suicide not only break their own Code about providing balance when discussing ethical issues but, even more seriously, they also breach the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines, published in 2000.
The WHO clearly set out the responsibilities and duties of the media. Consider some of these strictures in the context of the programme featuring Terry Pratchett and the euthanasia centre in Switzerland.
The WHO begin by reminding the media of the incredible impact which it can have in informing attitudes and behaviour:
“Media strongly influence community attitudes… media can also play an active role in the prevention of suicide.”

The WHO points to the way in which television can negatively influence suicidal behaviour. One study showed an increase in the number of suicides for up to 10 days after television news reports of cases of suicide.

They also warn against publicising suicide stories where celebrities are involved and warn against sensational coverage – which they argue should be assiduously avoided. The coverage should be minimized to the greatest possible extent possible. The WHO is right when it says:
“Suicide is perhaps the most tragic way of ending one’s life. The majority of people who consider suicide are ambivalent. They are not sure that they want to die. One of the many factors that may lead a vulnerable individual to suicide could be publicity about suicides in the media. How the media report on suicide cases can influence other suicides.”

A person’s death should not be a form of prime time entertainment, part of the battle for programme ratings – dressed up in the name of a hollow compassion.

In this country 550,000 people die each year. Very rarely do any make the newspapers or the media. Why does one lethal cocktail – but not 549,999 deaths – warrant wall to wall campaigning coverage?

Macmillan nurses, hospices and palliative care give the overwhelming majority in Britain a dignified death which does not involve commissioning doctors and nurses as patient killers. By all means agitate for improvement where the provision or practice isn’t good enough but let the BBC end this one sided and relentless campaign.

Consider what is at stake.
Chillingly, Baroness Warnock, who shaped the laws which have led to the destruction of millions of human embryos, has said that the sick are “wasting people’s lives” because of the care they require: “If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.” Suggesting that we have a “duty to die” she said “I think that’s the way the future will go, putting it rather brutally, you’d be licensing people to put others down.”
This turns the argument into a worth based on someone’s economic value rather than on their true human value and their human dignity.

In case you think “putting people down” just “couldn’t happen here” consider the situation in Holland.

Just before Christmas the Dutch announced that they are considering mobile units to kill people in their own homes. 1,000 of the 4,000 euthanasia deaths in Holland each year are now done without the patient’s consent.

Not content with this, the Dutch say that 80% of people with dementia or mental illnesses are being ‘missed’ by the country’s euthanasia laws. They say that the death-on-wheels mobile units are necessary because some GPs have refused to administer lethal drugs to their patients.  And, in March this year euthanasia clinic launched six mobile euthanasia teams in the anticipation that they will achieve 1,000 deaths per year.

These mobile death units are targeted at “unmet need” including people with chronic depression, disabilities, Alzheimer’s, loneliness and those whose request to be killed has been refused by their doctors. It’s as if the Dutch have forgotten the last time mobile death squads were deployed in Europe.
This isn’t giving people “dignity in dying”. Sending out mobile units to administer lethal injections, to “put people down”, will strike fear into the hearts of the vulnerable.

It diminishes the dignity and humanity of the sick and elderly and diminishes those of us who condone it.
Imagine what will happen in Britain if the proposed laws are implemented. You have a terminal incurable disease. You have the option of palliative care at £1,000 a week or a glass of barbiturates at £5. What will happen if we accept Lady Warnock’s proposition that “you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.”

How many relatives would put an inheritance before a life? One in eight current cases of elder abuse currently involves financial abuse by relatives and it would inevitably increase if we change the law. And health ministers, counting their pennies in a recession, will be tempted to go for the cheaper option – one Conservative Health Minister has already announced her support for assisted dying. A Bill allowing assisted suicide will carry the seeds of its own extension. If we allow it for some why deny it to others?

So how long before the Dutch mobile killing units arrive in a street near you?

To imitate Holland is unnecessary, dangerous and unethical.

As the distinguished lawyer, Lord Carlile QC, puts it we have “a hard law, with a kind face.” We should keep it that way.

Lord Carlile says: “The real concern was, and remains, public safety — the potential for collateral harm to the great majority of terminally ill people from giving a few individuals a “right” to prescription suicide pills. The so-called safeguards… were paper thin.”
Baroness (Ilora) Finlay – herself a professor of palliative says we don’t understand the difference between euthanasia and indefinitely continuing inappropriate treatment:
“Doctors regularly discontinue futile treatment. But they don’t do it in order to end a patient’s life: they are simply recognising that death cannot be prevented by treatment… end-of-life decisions, which are made every day by doctors, aren’t the same thing as ending-life decisions.”
When the physical, psychosocial and spiritual needs of the patient are met, requests for euthanasia are actually extremely rare. Less than 1,000 people persistently ask for it. 95% of Palliative Medicine Specialists are opposed to a change in the law. The Association of British Neurologists warn that severe depression will lead to cases of assisted dying  and that a law which says two doctors can determine such cases will offer few safeguards.

There will be no requirement that either of the two doctors should have any knowledge of the patient concerned. It isn’t required that they should have seen the patient’s case notes – or even examined the patient. The whole casual process could take place over the phone.

There is no requirement that either of these doctors should have any expertise in, or experience of, the medical condition in question. And yet this is an essential pre-requisite for determining the presence of a terminal illness and for giving a prognosis of its course.

There are no arrangements for seeking an expert opinion in cases of doubt – what will happen, for instance, if a patient is suffering from cognitive impairment or their judgement is clouded by depression?

To suggest that vulnerable people could be protected by two doctors being “of the opinion in good faith” is dangerously naïve at best and deceptive at worst.

Such a casual system of assessment is totally out of proportion with the gravity of the decision that is being taken.
Proponents of change insist that public opinion favours such a change. But public opinion probably would re-introduce capital punishment, too, and are we to suspend prudent judgement in that case too?
Rather than imitating the Dutch, we need to get behind groups like the admirable Care Not Killing Alliance, to defend and care for the sick and elderly and to put our energy into extending compassionate palliative care and hospice provision, and practical loving support – let’s demand “dignity in living” with the same fervour as those who want to license the routine killing of the most vulnerable in society

Recall, too, the story that when Mother Teresa was the guest of the White House at the National Prayer Breakfast she described to President Clinton and his guests how she had visited a home for the elderly where they had no shortage of material conveniences, but “why” she asked “does everyone sit looking at the door?”

She received the reply “It is because they are looking for the relatives who never come to visit them and who have no time for them”. Care and kill should never be used as synonyms and have no place in the healer’s art.


The loss of human dignity and corrupted values


If we have scandalous concern for human dignity at the beginning and end of life Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet shows that the deficit is not much better when it comes to other vulnerable groups. 2,000 people  are sleeping rough in England the number increased by a fifth last year;  84,900 households (which may contain more than one person) are classified as homeless; the prison population has increased by 85 per cent since 1993 with 87,673 men and women are in our jails; gun crime in the United Kingdom claims 30 victims every day; the average lifespan for people who get involved in gun crime in Manchester is a mere 24 years; that one woman in every four will be the victim of violence in her own home during the course of her lifetime.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet   reveals that individuals now owe more in debt than the wealth generated by the entire country in a year.  At the end of July 2012 total UK personal debt stood at a revised £1.410 trillion – up from £1.406 trillion at the end of July 2011.

331 people every day of the year will be declared insolvent or bankrupt. This is equivalent to 1 person every 60 seconds during a working day.  Almost 30 of every 10,000 people living in the north west of England are destined for insolvency.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet reveals a society where too many people think they owe nothing to anyone except the pursuit of their own desires.  We increasingly fail to participate.

Opting Out of Society


The Caravan Club and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have more members than all of the UK’s political parties combined. Just 1% of the population are members of a political party in the UK. We have come a long way since the Liberal, Conservative or Labour Club sat in the heart of every community. Trimdon Labour Club – the scene of Tony Blair’s Sedgefield triumphs – closed a year ago.

In 1951 the Conservative Party had 2.9 million members, Labour, 876,000; today they have 177,000 and 190,000 respectively and the Liberal Democrats have seen a reduction of their membership by 30,000 to 66,000.

Involvement in church life has also declined. While almost 2 out of 3 still identify themselves as Christians around 15%, 4 million people, go to church at least once a month – the fourth lowest attendance rate in Europe. Intriguingly many still claim a personal relationship with God but decline to make the effort to take part in church life. They believe without belonging; believe without participating.

There has also been a decline in membership of trades unions from 13million to 7 million in little over 30 years; and representative organisations, such as Women’s Leagues and the Mother’s Unions, also experiencing significant falls.

For a society to be healthy we have to be participators and the trustees, not the owners, of what we possess. Social, political and economic activity must ultimately centre on the common good rather than individual acquisitiveness or the hegemony of the state.

Living and partly living: the abolition of man

TS Eliot could have had our diminished and dehumanised society in mind when he suggested that we are “living and partly living”, while CS Lewis prophetically foresaw a society where we would see what he famously called “The Abolition of Man”.

And how do we intend to address the deficit on Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet?

What can we learn from what has gone before?

During the eighteenth century men like John and Charles Wesley, their hearts warmed, as they said, by the Holy Spirit, stepped into the quagmire that was Britain then. Their new enthusiasm so alarmed the church authorities that church doors were literally barred against them.

In the fields and at make shift venues the re-evangelisation of England began.  The Wesleys, George Whitfield, and others, deepened the religious renewal – followed in the nineteenth century by the Oxford Movement and the Tractarians, and then by the Catholic Spring and Cardinal John Henry Newman and Cardinal Manning.  The religious awakening was accompanied by a commensurate awakening of social virtue and work for the common good,and among the achievements of Christian social reformers such as William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury were the abolition of slavery, the ending of child labour, public health legislation, ragged free schools, and significant social progress.

A century later, in 1904, Joseph Jenkins led an extraordinary Welsh religious revival which brought 100,000 converts in a year. Many became the flag bearers for political and social activism. The chapel spearheaded reform and deterred revolution.

Through these examples of religious and spiritual revival we can trace personal renewal and then national reconstruction.  We can also see the path we need to take.  Having understood the Dread Balance Sheet and analysed the root causes we then need to commit ourselves to act.

Be clear: a nation or State will not survive for long if its communities and civil structures are decaying or if its rulers do not pursue civic virtues. A society where individual autonomy and individual choice become trump cards in every game lives dangerously close to the edge.   A respect for law, a sense of personal responsibility, public spirit and munificence, firmness of purpose, discernment and foresight, perseverance, and a sense of duty might be chief among the civic qualities to which we aspire; and our gifts must be used for the common good.

It is self evident that our civil society has become increasingly uncivil as modern citizenship has revolved around the flaccid language of rights alone and with a weakened sense of ethics and a lack of virtue, and with no shared framework for reaching conclusions because there are so few shared values.

We have created a dehumanised society where we breed unrealisable demands, a cult of selfishness and materialism. The Jewish sage Hillel said: “If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, what am I?”


And what will be the fate of those who are only for themselves?  Eliot puts it like this in East Coker:

“O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark…

…And we all go with them, into the silent funeral…”


Does it have to be like this?

When Europe was facing the challenge of Nazism the Protestant theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, prophetically wrote: “The most important question for the future is how we can find a basis for human life together, what spiritual laws we accept as the foundation of a meaningful human life.”    

And to meet this challenge Bonhoeffer argued that we each have a duty to take a stand:  “We have been the silent witnesses of evil deeds. What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men.”

 Bonheoffer also warned that “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself” while Dr.Matin Luther King said Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”

In every sphere of life today we need plain, honest, straightforward men and women willing to speak up about the condition of our nation.

Like Bonhoeffer, St.Edith Stein died at the hands of the Nazis.

A German-Jewish philosopher, who became a Catholic nun she died in the gas chamber at Auschwitz. At a time when the Nazi State was stifling dissent and corralling its citizens into conformism with the tenets of National Socialism, Stein wrote tellingly about the responsibility of every citizen to be an agent for good or ill; and about  the way in which the values of the individual citizen determine the nature of the State in which they live. Both society and the State consist entirely of persons. These are not mysterious entities.  They are made up of men, women and children whose strengths and weaknesses, talents and needs, are all too real.

“The state is not an abstract entity. It acts and suffers only as those individual agents through whose actions the functions of the state are discharged act and suffer… Moral predicates apply to the state only insofar as they apply to the relevant individuals.’  

The State, then, takes its inspiration from the values of its citizens.

If Britain is to be remade it will require a huge effort to persuade every citizen to take seriously the promotion of the commons good.Out of the present malaise and crisis is an opportunity to proclaim a belief in human dignity, the worth of each life; the duty we each have to the communities of which we are a part: a call for an outpouring for the common good.

Crisis or Opportunity?

The Chinese calligraphy for the word crisis can also be used for the word opportunity.  Dire situations can be turned around.

Winston Churchill wept when he saw the destruction of the East End of London by Nazi bombardment. He understood the importance of drawing a whole nation around a common cause:  “All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope.”

Today, our nation faces a new common enemy and a new peril. It is both external and internal.  But it can also become a common cause; and one of the best weapons we have remains Churchill’s belief in those single words which we in Great Britain cherish: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope.

Britain urgently needs to feel the sharp compassion of the healer’s art – and think what our country would be like if healing became a central mission of the Church in every family, neighbourhood and across the nation.

In the Four Quartets Eliot tells us that “The only hope, or else despair, Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre- To be redeemed from fire by fire.”

He is referring to the fire of the Holy Spirit and to “The dove descending breaks the air,  With flame of incandescent terror,  Of which the tongues declare,  The one discharge from sin and error … Love is the unfamiliar Name, Behind the hands that wove, The intolerable shirt of flame, Which human power cannot remove, We only live, only suspire, Consumed by either fire or fire.”

Touched by the sharp compassion of the healer’s art our hearts can be repaired and as we are healed we may then heal our families, our communities and our nation.

There is no other way and our task must surely be to persuade our fellow citizens to join us in seeking the balm of the wounded healer.

Starvation of incapacitated patients

Universe Column

by David Alton

It was deeply paradoxical that in the very week a shepherd was sentenced to six months in prison for not providing enough food and water for his sheep, some parliamentarians were insisting that it is lawful and ethical to starve to death an incapacitated patient. It reminded me that the last time the House of Commons debated euthanasia 77 of the MPs who voted for euthanasia voted against fox hunting. Only in Britain would we give more protection to the embryo of an animal that we deny to a human embryo.  It truly is a topsy turvey world.

The killing of sick patients began in 1989 with Tony Bland. His death clearly conflicted with the exercise of the duty of care for a patient and replaced it with a doctor’s judgement about whether a patient’s life is any longer worthwhile.

I have a curious letter from David Lammy who is a Minister in the Department of Health. Defending the Bland Judgement he claims that it is untrue to state that the purpose of withdrawing food and fluid from Tony Bland was to cause his death. What other purpose could it possibly have had?

The Bland case can be starkly contrasted with the case of one of my former constituents in Liverpool, Andrew Devine.  Andrew, like Tony Bland, went into a deep coma after being injured at the Hillsborough football match when 96 people died. The conditions of Tony Bland and Andrew Devine were identical.  Shortly after the Hillsborough tragedy I visited Andrew and his parents. As the years passed I have followed his progress. Last week Andrew’s mother told me that having been told by medics that, “Andrew will never be able to swallow or to eat food”, she felt that her son had “been written off”. She was told that it, would be a waste of resources to treat him”.

The medics also said that it would be clear within two years whether Andrew was going to make any progress. In fact, it took five years. They told his parents “nothing can be done” when quite a lot could be done and was done.  Against all the predictions Andrew now eats heartily and eats solids. Mrs Devine is adamant that “From our point of view it was a hard enough battle to fight for the things we needed without being offered the chance to do away with Andrew”.  She says, “Starving or dehydrating someone is an unpleasant death-you might as well give a lethal injection”.

Through their love and devotion Andrew’s parents found the Brain Injury Rehabilitation and Development Centre at Broughton, near Chester, not because they were referred there, but because they found it via a television programme. They took Andrew to London, to the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability at West Hill in Putney and paid for his first course of treatment themselves.  Mrs Devine argues that the law needs to be strengthened because “economic pressures to free beds would be overwhelming; the pressure would be enormous”.  In reality, withdrawal of feeding, including oral feeding, is now being extended. In June 1999 the BMA published guidance on Withholding and Withdrawing Life-prolonging Medical Treatment, in which they considered it appropriate to withdraw tube feeding from,  To allow doctors to withdraw sustenance from patients with the purpose of ending their lives subverts the law of murder.

I have yet to hear a convincing explanation as to why nutrition and hydration, however so delivered, should be classified as medical treatment and not basic care. What medical ailment is being treated?  Since when has hunger or thirst been considered an illness? It has even been established in the case of animals that freedom from hunger and freedom from thirst constitute two of the five welfare considerations to which all domestic animals are entitled. Surely it is not unreasonable for the same criteria to be applied to human beings.  If starving a sheep to death is worth a six-month prison sentence, how can it ever be logical, ethical, or compassionate to justify the starving to death of a human being?

A Matter Of Life And Death

By David Alton

Universe Column

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, says that euthanasia is “an act of violence, an attempt to take possession of the future…even if euthanasia were legalised in some form and pragmatic anxieties overcome, it could not be a course of action endorsed by Christians.”

On June 6th the House of Lords will have its first debate on Lord Joffe’s Patient Assisted Dying Bill – that seeks to make euthanasia legal. This “act of violence” will become routine and legal.

Care homes and hospices that have traditionally overseen the care of the elderly, the sick or the dying will become charnel houses. In seeking to “take possession of the future” we will demand of our doctors that they become licensed killers. The collateral effects on society’s attitudes are incalculable.

At Westminster last week one Peer, Baroness Trumpington, a former Health Minister, said that she had not received a single letter opposing euthanasia but had been inundated with letters supporting it. There is a huge write-in campaign. It is co-ordinated by those lobbying for change.

The issue for Christians is not simply about whether euthanasia should be endorsed, it is about whether something so fundamental should occur with barely a murmur of protest.  Thirty years ago Christian quietism – and a docile, false belief that abortion would never be legalised – paved the way for a law that has claimed 6 million lives. With what indifference will we now allow the fate of the unborn to be visited on the sick and dying?

In writing to Members of the House of Lords, and MPs, you can remind them of this week’s important opinion poll of British doctors. 61% state that they do not want euthanasia legalised – with a further 13% undecided. Most doctors are so opposed – some 76% – that they say that if euthanasia were legalised they would refuse to perform it. Not one single palliative care doctor who responded to the survey said they would be prepared to practice euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Professor Tim Maughan the director of Wales Cancer Trials Network at Cardiff University put it succinctly:  “this is not what we became doctors to do.”

This debate has been manufactured by lobby groups with a clear agenda. Despite all the publicity hype  around the tragic cases of Diane Pretty and Reg Crew, half the doctors who were surveyed said that in the past three years not a single patient or their relatives had requested euthanasia. 59% of the doctors said that the British Medical Association were right to resist moves to legalise euthanasia.

The Hospice Movement has warned of the dire consequences. Dr. Nigel Sykes, Medical director of St. Christopher’s Hospice in London says the Joffe Bill is “dangerous” and would “progress to mental illness. Euthanasia without express request will inevitably follow. Patients will be made to think that euthanasia is the decent thing to do.”

The BMA’s opposition to the Joffe Bill has been joined by the Disability Rights Commission – who say it will endanger disabled people – and also by Help the Aged. But what will you do?

Now is the time to speak out. We don’t need euthanasia, we need more resources for geriatric care and hospices. To die with dignity we don’t need doctors to kill us.

Write to Peers at the House of Lords, London SW1A OPW. Further details are at www.parliamentaryprolifegroup.org.uk or from Right To Life at rtl@ukgateway.net (0208 992 7657)

The New Commandment

Thou Shalt Not Be A Burden: Thou Shalt Not Live

By David Alton

Universe Column June 1st 2003

Next Friday, June 6th the House of Lords debates the Joffe Bill on euthanasia. In seeking to give people “the right to be killed” it risks turning euthanasia into a duty. Sick and disabled people will be made to believe that they are a burden on society or their relatives. In constantly emphasising blocked hospital beds and waiting lists, vulnerable people – many of them acutely depressed already – will feel they owe it to their relatives and to society to seek a lethal injection. The age old commandment given to Moses, Thou Shalt Not Kill will be abjured and replaced by a new injunction not to be a burden and not to live.

This is precisely what is happening in Holland – where first they turned a blind eye to so called mercy killing. This decriminalisation inevitably led in turn to the legalising of voluntary euthanasia and now to involuntary euthanasia. 1 in 4 euthanasia deaths in Holland are now involuntary.

Once euthanasia becomes normative doctors then stop bothering to report what they are doing. At a meeting organised by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society in Parliament, Professor John Griffiths of the Faculty of Law, University of Groningen, admitted that only 50% to 60% of cases of euthanasia in the Netherlands are reported to the proper authorities. More worryingly still, Professor Griffiths admitted that it is the “more problematic” cases that are escaping the control system. In other words, despite what Lord Joffe’s supporters say, it is impossible to establish an effective regulatory framework for assisted suicide and euthanasia..

A broad coalition has been built in opposition to Lord Joffe’s Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill. Along with the British Medical Association, the Chief Rabbi, and the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster, both the Disability Rights Commission and Help the Aged have confirmed that they do not support the Bill.

The Disability Rights Commission say: “Until we are convinced that sufficient regulation and safeguards can, and will be, put in place to ensure the right to life of disabled people, we will not support the legalisation of assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia.”

Help the Aged say: “This (the Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill) is not a Bill that Help the Aged would support, because we do not support changes to the law relating to euthanasia.”

Dr Nigel Sykes, the Medical Director of St Christopher’s Hospice, in London says there is undoubtedly sympathy for euthanasia among the general public. “However” he said, “patients themselves usually do not want euthanasia. Euthanasia is a minority interest amongst the terminally ill. It is only those who are healthy who want Lord Joffe’s Bill.”

There are major difficulties with the definitions in the Bill. Just what is meant by ‘suffering unbearably’, what is a ‘serious and progressive physical illness’? Advanced or perhaps even not so advanced rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes would fall under the definition of ‘serious physical illness’ and euthanasia would become a ‘symptom-control choice’, one option of ‘treatment’ among others. Having watched my own mother die of crippling arthritis I am not unaware of the loss of dignity and the suffering of serious illness. But I also know what would have been lost if I had commissioned her premature death or if she had been encouraged to believe that her life was worthless and that she would have been better off dead.

If society endorses euthanasia as an ‘appropriate treatment choice’ for competent patients, surely it will be only a matter of time until euthanasia will be offered as appropriate ‘treatment’ to patients that are temporarily or permanently incompetent.

Before Peers debate this Bill next Friday write and urge them to think again (House of Lords, London SW1A OPW, telephone 0207 219 3000).

The Mental Incapacity Bill

By David Alton

Universe Column for August 17th 2003

In recent months my parliamentary colleague Baroness Finlay of Llandaff has emerged as one of the foremost voices protecting the elderly, the disabled and the terminally ill from proposals to legalise euthanasia. Given her own background as a young professor specialising in palliative care Ilora Finlay’s voice has been authoritative and persuasive.  Over the months ahead of us – and as the battles over euthanasia show no sign of abating – her voice will be even more crucial.

The Government has recently published its long-awaited draft Mental Incapacity Bill: and this is where the next major battle will occur. Those of us who are opposed to the legalisation of euthanasia have always been concerned that mental incapacity legislation could be the Trojan horse through which pro-euthanasia policies are introduced.

While we accept the need to reform our mental incapacity laws, the warm welcome given to the draft Bill by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society demonstrates that our concerns are well-founded. Serious dangers lurk in the draft Mental Incapacity Bill. It would be a great shame if the Government allows the pro-euthanasia lobby to highjack much needed legislation in the area of mental capacity.

There are two immediate questions of specific concern – advance decisions and lasting powers of attorney.

The draft Bill seeks to codify and clarify the current law on advance decisions to refuse medical treatment. According to the draft Bill, an “advance decision” will become legally binding regardless of how old it is or how ill-informed the make or how hypothetical the condition.

This goes beyond the current legal position on advanced decisions. For example, nowhere is it specified that the advance decision must be in writing. “Broad terms” and “non-scientific” language is sufficient to indicate a decision.

Unless the validity of these advance decisions is circumscribed vulnerable patients will be put at risk of neglect and death. This issue must be confronted during consultation on the draft Bill so as to ensure that the rights of the mentally incapacitated are fully protected.

The draft Bill also seeks to enshrine in law “lasting powers of attorney”. Previously known as continuing powers of attorney these would allow an individual (the donor) to confer on another individual or individuals (donees) authority to make decisions on the donor’s behalf on issues concerning the donor’s personal welfare, including his medical care. The lasting power of attorney would become effective upon the donor’s mental incapacity.

If lasting powers of attorney are not to increase the vulnerability of mentally incapable patients, the donee’s authority would need to be carefully monitored and subject to scrutiny. Safeguards are not enough.

There is however one positive aspect to the provisions on lasting powers of attorney. The donee can demand the transfer of the donor’s care to another doctor. This would seriously help donees who seek nutrition for the donor when he or she is not getting it from their current doctor.

In recent weeks I have been involved in the Lords in debates on Baroness Knight’s Patients’ Protection Bill. This Bill seeks to prohibit the withdrawal or withholding of food and fluids from non-dying patients. In the course of our debates concerns have been expressed about the nutritional needs of patients, particularly the elderly, not being met in our hospitals.

I believe that the Joint Committee comprising members of the Lords and Commons which has been appointed to consider the draft Bill would do well to read our debates on the Patients’ Protection Bill prior to reaching any conclusions. We must not allow euthanasia to be smuggled in under the guise of mental incapacity legislation – and we must hope that peers like Baroness Finlay will guard against this happening.

Euthanasia: 2003

Easter 2003 Column

Universe Column April 20th 2003 (Easter Sunday)

By David Alton

On Easter Sunday we throw away the grave clothes, smash the bonds of death, and replace grieving with celebration. It is the day when we reaffirm our central belief in life after death and an end, once and for all, of pain, suffering and despair. At Easter we wipe away the tears of sadness and sing our alleluias and hosannas as peons of praise, joy, and thanksgiving.

But imagine, if you will, a dark, pessimistic world devoid of the assurance that death has been conquered. In all truth, that is the depressed world in which many people live.

These contrasting worlds were in my mind when Parliament heard about the forthcoming Joffe Bill to legalise euthanasia (soon to be debated in the House of Lords).

Professor David Currow, Professor of Palliative and Supportive Services at Australia’s Flinders University, in Adelaide, and Jane Campbell, a Disability Rights Commissioner, graphically described  the implications of legalising euthanasia. Professor Currow said that five out of 8 of the patients killed in Holland via euthanasia were suffering demoralisation or depression – or both.  3.4% of all deaths in Holland are now caused by euthanasia and one in four is without the express wish of the patient. There has been a ten fold increase in non-voluntary euthanasia. Given the obsession with “patient autonomy”  it’s hard to see how taking someone’s life without their consent makes them more autonomous.

What particularly struck me in Professor Currow’s presentation was his insistence that despair and depression – not pain – were the main reason why people end their lives: “If you’re not depressed or demoralised your chance of seeking euthanasia is zero,” he said.

He also insisted that “Positive requests for euthanasia usually result from poor medical care” and that when good palliative care is offered there is a dramatic drop in requests “despair melts like snow in the sunshine.”

Jane Campbell made an equally compelling case.

She has a severe disability and earlier this year wrote a brilliant article in The Independent (ital) entitled “Don’t Be Fooled: We Don’t All Want To Kill Ourselves.”

In 1999 Jane was deeply affected by  the case of Baby C whom the Courts decided should be denied ventilation. The child would be “a burden” on State resources, would be dead by the age of two, and her life would be a “living hell.” Jane  has exactly the same disability and as a baby was given the same prognosis.

In January became critically ill with pneumonia in both lungs and septicaemia. The doctor said “we won’t put you on life support; you don’t want to live like that.” A consultant also said that if she went into respiratory failure she wouldn’t be ventilated as she would not live a full and active life after ventilation. Jane described this approach as “ignorant, ill-informed, calculating and heartless.”

Having survived all of this she says that the Joffe Bill to legalise euthanasia “will put lives at risk and does nothing to protect disabled people from prejudice.”

Surely instead of  seeking ways to kill patients we should seek ways to alleviate their despair. Too often when we say we want to put someone “out of their misery” what we really mean is that we want to end our own misery. We don’t address the real fears that people have of becoming a burden.  We simply fail them when we leave them in the abyss of  demoralisation, tormented by the black dog of depression.

This Easter we need to reaffirm the gospel of life, recalling Aristotle’s pre-Christian wisdom that “an act becomes a habit, becomes a destiny.”  Our lives – and how we respond to those in need – has an effect on the whole of society; but so does how we die; and on this day of all days we need to remind society of the Hope that lies beyond the grave, and offer them a better destiny than a lethal injection.

Government and Euthanasists Hand in Glove

Universe Column

By David Alton

Earlier this year the Lord Chancellor’s Department issued a consultation document, ‘Making Decisions: Helping People Who Have Difficulty Deciding For Themselves’. The deadline for submissions has now closed but I would like to share with you some of my concerns regarding the document. It is the latest in a long line of consultation documents that the Government has published preparing the way for comprehensive reform of our mental incapacity legislation.

Consequently, I am gravely concerned that in the consultation document the Government expresses its thanks to the Voluntary Euthanasia Society for “their help in taking this forward” and in a number of the guidance leaflets contained within recommends the reader consult the Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES), particularly with regard to the preparation of ‘living wills’.

When the Lord Chancellor’s Department submits its response to the various submissions received it is important that three specific issues are addressed: –

1.      What meetings have been held between ministers and officials and representatives of the VES, and when?

2.      How does the Government reconcile their co-operation with the VES with their stated opposition to the legalisation of euthanasia? With the vast array of lawyers and civil servants at the Government’s disposal there is certainly no need for the Government to consult the VES, or others, on any legal matters.

3.      Why did the Lord Chancellor’s Department not seek the assistance of organisations opposed to all forms of euthanasia when preparing the Consultation document?

I am extremely concerned that this whole consultation process has been fatally compromised at the outset. The Government has been hand in glove with the pro-euthanasia lobby.

The Consultation Paper assumes throughout that food and fluids, howsoever delivered to patients, are medical treatment that can be withdrawn from patients if to do so would be in the patients’ best interests. The reality is that food and fluids are basic care that should never be withdrawn from patients who are not dying.

The withdrawal of artificially delivered food and fluids from persons in a persistent vegetative state constitutes non-voluntary euthanasia by omission. This particular form of euthanasia has been legalised by stealth through the courts and the Consultation Paper does nothing to correct this. In fact, if the leaflets and guidance set out in the document are approved for public use, this will further enshrine the legalisation of non-voluntary euthanasia in England and Wales. In such circumstances the advisory leaflets should contain clear information on the effects of dehydration and the fact that basic care is deemed not to include the provision of food and fluids.

Parliament has never been given a proper opportunity to debate this vital issue. Before the leaflets and guidance enter the public domain it is crucial that Parliament is given sufficient opportunity to debate the withdrawal of food and fluids from patients who are not dying.

The Government has consistently stated that they have no plans to legalise euthanasia. However, their definition of ‘euthanasia’ appears to exclude non-voluntary euthanasia by omission. If the Government really want to demonstrate their opposition to euthanasia then they would introduce legislation outlawing the withdrawal of assisted food and fluid from patients with the purpose of causing death without delay.