Opinion: Choose Life

The spring conference at Brighton 2012 proposed a motion (F20) on Medically Assisted Dying which was carried and I was the only one who spoke against it. Now Lord Falconer has introduced a Bill on Assisted Dying for which I feel compelled to make a case against. On the wall at Lib Dem head office it say “The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity“.The motion and proposed Bill are certainly progressive and have merit in their own right but I believe they are not of Liberal creed.

The section of society who may be affected by this Bill, I believe, will fall foul of “…enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity“.

Euthanasia was legalised in the Netherlands decades ago. Government-ordered surveys were carried out and clearly showed that non-voluntary life-termination could be as high as 1,000 people a year; this was over and above drugs given to explicitly end life (although the Government tried to gloss over these facts). The report also stated that non-voluntary life-termination were difficult to prevent.

The law permitting assisted suicide (though not euthanasia) in Oregon was passed in 1997. The state has not carried out proper surveys but the anecdotal evidence shows that patients are being pressured to die or been undertreated on the grounds they have an alternative – a suicide prescription. A Doctors confirmation is all that’s needed for such deaths; there is no independent control on the Doctors involvement. Also over time the State has become less keen to fund essential medical service in response to this change in the Law (see Assisted-suicide requests based on financial concerns).

There is a misconception that scores of people from Britain are going to Switzerland for medically assisted suicides. In 2012 Ludwig Minelli founder of Dignitas said that there were 1000 people who they assisted and well over 50% were from Germany (shockingly a growing number of people, across different age groups, approached Dignitas wanting to end their life because they didn’t wish to live any longer).

Medically Assisted Dying or assistance for those who have less than six months to live I believe with the best will in the world and tight procedures will result in pressure for this quick, cheap and easy alternative to be pushed upon a section of vulnerable members of our society (especially the elderly who are already disadvantaged in terminal care will suffer further if assisted dying is seen as a ‘quick fix’ for some). This is where I believe in time we will fail to uphold our values to ensure that there is no one“…enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity“ and the evidence from the Netherlands would suggest that in time a choice does becomes the preference.

My instinct is to ask you to always choose Life.

* Tahir Maher is a former Chair of South Central Liberal Democrats and lives in Wokingham.

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23 Comments

  • Graham Martin-Royle 10th Jun '13 - 10:43am

    Slippery slope argument. There have been no reports that anyone has been pressured into taking this route, either from those European countries that allow assisted dying or from the USA.

  • Hello Graham
    I would disagree with your comment. Certainly there is little quantifiable “smoking gun” evidence, if that was the case people would most likely be in jail for doing this but if you read reports on the experience from stakeholders / interested parties re those from Orego and the Netherlands there is clear concern on this matter. I am not an advocator of no smoke without fire but looking at all the evidence (Government reports / anecdotal / reports from local Charities) the subtle conclusion is that that there are anomalies.

    I don’t want to get into an argument over this with you as I am proposing an opinion.

    Tahir

  • It is rather absurd to equate the thousand people whose lives were ended by lethal injection without their explicit endorsement with an argument about people being pressured into dying. Every day in the UK people have their life support switched off without any explicit endorsement. This happens because they have reached the limit of medical sciences ability to ever return them to health and Doctors have taken the decision that there is no value in preserving life with no hope of recovery. In the Netherlands, Doctors in this situation have the option of cleanly terminating life with injection rather than simply leaving the person to die after the removal of life support.

    You may, or may not, object to this but it has no baring on the issue of people being pressured into assisted suicide or euthanasia.

  • What right do we as a society have to make someone live through a painful and undignified death? The starting point is to legalise assisted dying, everything else must be secondary.

  • Your instinct may well be ‘to always choose life’ but no one, especially a Liberal Democrat, has the right to impose that belief on others. You do not have the right to impose your personal belief. You do not have the right to impose a belief based in religious teaching.

    In a Liberal society the choice over such an issue should be the individuals.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 10th Jun '13 - 1:33pm

    Dear Paul,

    The only person that has mentioned the word religion or belief is yourself. Tahir has said nothing even hinting that that his “instinct” is founded in anything other than his liberal principles.

    I on the other hand find myself in a quandary for although I honestly do believe in the liberal principle of self determination, I personally cannot condone, as a result of my personal philosophical beliefs the ‘Taking of Life’, (anothers or ones own), although I would not impose this belief on anyone else, I would still have to personally support Tahir’s position, for the very concerns that he has raised.

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera

  • At the moment there is not a choice.

  • Steve Bacon 10th Jun '13 - 1:39pm

    I heartily agree with Tahir. I share the same fear that ‘voluntary’ will, as in the Netherlands, become ‘under coercion’.

    I am a pro-life Liberal Democrat, and am well-acquainted with the half-truths concerning so-called ‘pro-choice’ at either end of life. When my son was born, I put an announcement in the ‘Telegraph’ (I was not allowed to put a similar advert in ‘The Times’) headed ‘Termination of Pregnancy’. He was born by Caesarian Section, and hence the pregnancy was ‘terminated’ – though with the outcome that he was born live. This is nothing about imposing my beliefs on others; rather, it is about being truthful and not using weasel-words.

  • Steve Griffiths 10th Jun '13 - 2:52pm

    I would support choice; not lack of choice.

    Very few could be unmoved by the recent high profile cases of persons unable to end their own life without assistance and challenging the law, especially the unfortunate gentleman with so called ‘Locked-in’ Syndrome and not terminally ill. Tahir, have you nothing to say to such persons in sound mind, but far from sound body, other than maybe ‘Oh dear, how sad, never mind’. There is a cruelty in turning your back and ignoring their pleas.

  • Hi Tahir

    Your post seems to take the view that phenomina like involuntary assistance to die, witholding care based on the assumption that a person does not wish to live or the withdrawl of essential medical services ONLY happen in countries where some form of assisted dying / suicide / euthenasia has been legalised. Surely you must agree that actually these practices take place all over the world and there is good evidence that they already happen here (as I pointed out in an LDV article myself they are much much more common than people dying at dignitas, something on which we seem to agree). Why do you think that the legal prohibition on all forms of assistance to end life is a better protection for people than a clear and cogent legal framework that allows for assistance where this is provided for the right reasons and thus makes it much easier to identify and prosecute people when assistance is provided for the wrong reasons? After all people are hardly being proescuted under the current law are they?

    Simon

  • Alex Harvey 10th Jun '13 - 9:36pm

    *Doctor’s

  • Peter Squires 10th Jun '13 - 9:54pm

    Dear Tahir,
    Under the current law, many terminally ill people are suffering painful and undignified deaths, in spite of the best palliative care. Some feel compelled to make a traumatic journey to Dignitas, including my mother Glenys, in March 2012. She was suffering the advanced symptoms of the progressive, neurological disease, Huntingtons. Had there existed the emotional safety net of an Assisted Dying law, my mother would not have felt the need to make that journey earlier than was really necessary, so as to ensure she was well enough to travel. Instead she would have been able to live longer and to die at a time of her choosing, in her own home.
    The question must surely be “how might we legislate to prevent unnecessary suffering, whilst safeguarding the vulnerable?”
    Lord Falconer’s bill addresses this. The bill contains upfront safeguards and is based on the Oregon legislation. Over 15 years real experience in Oregon shows that fears such as the ones you express, have not in fact been realised.
    An assisted dying law would not result in more people dying, but in fewer people suffering.
    The British public overwhelmingly support a change in the law.
    Now is the time for our legislators to do the courageous thing and give us the compassionate law that we deserve.

    Peter Squires.

  • Jonathan Brown 10th Jun '13 - 11:17pm

    I remember this debate as something special. I went into it thinking that it (or at least my own opinion) was pretty clear cut in favour of allowing medically assisted dying. I remember lots of people speaking against, and the arguments and feeling on both sides of the debate were really outstanding. Although I did vote in favour of the motion, I remember being proud to have been there, and witnessed such a debate where I could have so much respect for those arguing against.

    What persuaded me in the end was the feeling that unless the evidence was very clear that a change would lead to a lot more abuse (more than we get with the current system), we should err on the side of giving people the choice, creating a legal framework for something that already happens and giving support and certainty to those working in the medical profession.

    I haven’t changed my mind, but I did go from thinking ‘of course this is what we should do’ to ‘actually, there are very good arguments for not changing the law, even if they don’t quite outweigh the arguments in favour of doing so’.

    Thanks for the good article Tahir.

  • Tahir, sadly I was not present at the debate, however I do support your arguments and would have voted with you,

  • Tahir’s opinion, although certainly put forward for the best of reasons, seems to me to be a paper tiger – if you don’t want an assisted death, say so in advance – but don’t try to impose that opinion on others.

  • I am getting sick and tired of the “don’t impose your opinion on others” line that is brought out whenever anyone has a view that goes against the grain and the person in question is religious, or is suspected of being. Almost always the arguments put forward, for which the response “don’t impose your views…” is elicited, are rational and well argued, whether or not I might agree with them.

  • Tahir Maher TAhir Maher 12th Jun '13 - 1:49pm

    I am amused at the conclusion some have quickly reached (after no doubt seeing my name and photo) and lectured me on not imposing my view – ironically by imposing their views. So much for freedom to express yourself in our liberal party.
    I am a conscietious objector and strongly believe that all life is valuable, if we as a race followed this principle we may well not spend so much time killing each other.
    The point of the article is that assisting dying is progressive but not liberal as it does not or cannot guarantee unnecessary loss of life. Just to provide choice for society cannot be balanced against life

  • Julian Tisi 12th Jun '13 - 3:36pm

    I agree Tahir. On the issue of assisted dying I’m with you too. While I have every sympathy for those who find themselves in the situation where life appears to be too hard to continue and would want to extend every level of understanding and legal leniency to those who want to end their life and their families, the likelihood of involuntary suicide or pressurised suicide can’t be understated. Once we more from a culture where taking a life is seen as completely unacceptable to one where assisted death is a completely normal option it will inevitably lead to pressure being put on the vulnerable who might consider that they are seen as a burden and that it would be better for everyone else if they were to die. I personally have a real problem with the suggestion that to choose to live on is somehow undignified.

  • @Julian Tisi

    It would be clearer if people said instead “Don’t seek to use the political and legislative system to make a collective decision for everyone when it is a matter about which everyone could decide individually, if you were given that right.” – pretty much sums of the definition of liberalism.

  • Simon Banks 24th Jun '13 - 1:24pm

    Tahir has raised legitimate issues. If we consider how often vulnerable people, particularly old and frail people, are treated in hospital as if they are not human, their voices not listened to, their relatives treated as nuisances, their basic needs not catered for (I am not denying much dedication and good care, but the opposite is far too common) is it not reasonable to fear that people who are seen as nuisances blocking a bed, people who will not get better, will be put under pressure?

    Nonetheless, it’s possible to legislate for safeguards, and it seems to me someone who clearly has a fixed wish that their life should end, should get what they wish for. That does not imply any judgement on the personal moral questions, but those are between the individual and God (or philosophy and values).

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