Compassion doesn’t have to mean assisted dying

Compassion is also about providing high quality care that should be available to all.

Compassion is also about providing high quality care that should be available to all

Amidst all the politicking of a reshuffle earlier this week and the knock about over Michal Gove’s demotion and the UK’s place in Europe, Peers will today consider what should be the most serious issues facing us all – namely matters of life and death.

Just weeks after the President of the Supreme Court used a judgement to invite Parliament to reconsider the law around assisted dying, the House of Lords will do so.

In a sign of the interest in the debate, over 130 Peers have indicated that they wish to speak at second reading of the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer’s, Assisted Dying Bill.

The Bill itself, if enacted, would provide for a person who is terminally ill and has six months or less to live to seek and lawfully be provided with assistance to end their own life.

Two doctors would have to be satisfied the person was terminally ill, has the capacity to make the decision, and has a clear intent to do so. The decision would not be allowed to be made under coercion. Doctors would then be able to prescribe lethal doses of drugs.

The question we must now confront is whether it is right to proceed with this legislation or not.

Whilst having every sympathy with those calling for changes, I cannot support what Lord Falconer and others are proposing.

I start from the stand point of having seen many close friends going through the agony of seeing parents and other loved ones with various forms of cancer being told that there was no other treatment options available, counting down time until their deaths.

For those advocating this legislation, compassion means providing a ‘way out’, an option to end one’s life when all other avenues have been exhausted, bringing an end people’s suffering. Yet as the Archbishop of Canterbury has so clearly written on the subject:

“Compassion literally means ‘to suffer with’. The problem with the argument above is not that it fails to show compassion, but that it fails to show enough compassion. It restricts compassion to the immediate and the personal instead of extending it to everyone. It fails to recognise the truth contained in the parable of the Good Samaritan: every person is my neighbour; every person deserves my compassion.”

The danger is that we turn compassion into a one dimensional issue, that we conclude as a society that compassion is about helping people find a way out rather than walking with them through their suffering and anguish and providing the high quality of palliative care that all should be able to access.

Just recently, research by the University of Edinburgh concluded that those who are dying and have a range of illnesses face a bewildering array of services whilst reports continue to highlight the financial difficulties being faced by the country’s hospices.

Should we not be doing more to improve these before reaching for the dangerous levers of legislation which, for all the wording in the world, would start a journey in a direction that ends the notion of doctors having a sole aim of ‘improve patients’ quality of life, not to foreshorten it’ as the British Medical Association has noted.

Also, how certain can Doctors be that a terminally ill patient has six months or less to live? Is it really an exact science? If not, how can we explain the risks of getting it wrong? The danger of the question of what if the doctors got it wrong would simply be unbearable for loved ones.

And then there is the argument, quite simply, that many elderly people, those perhaps such as the 10 per cent who in a recent Age UK poll have described themselves as being often or always lonely, feeling the pressures to end it all. However the legislation is worded the only fail save option would be not to have it on the statute book at all.

As Gordon Brown clearly argued writing for the Telegraph in 2010 whilst still Prime Minister:

“Let us be clear: death as an option and an entitlement, via whatever bureaucratic processes a change in the law on assisted suicide might devise, would fundamentally change the way we think about death.

“The risk of pressures – however subtle – on the frail and the vulnerable, who may for example feel their existences burdensome to others, cannot ever be entirely excluded.”

He continued:

“I know in my heart that there is such a thing as a good death. And I believe it is our duty as a society… to use the laws we have well, rather than change them.

“The inevitable erosion of trust in the caring professions – if they were in a position to end life – would be to lose something very precious.”

I tend to agree.

Also on this topic

Dying people deserve constructive debate on assisted dying, not scaremongering

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