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UK 'Assisted Dying Bill' Worries Christian Medicals

New law provides qualification for death?
( [email protected] ) Aug 06, 2004 05:56 PM EDT

LONDON - The issue on assisted dying and euthanasia has been drawing worldwide debate. In the UK, the Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Bill drafted by Lord Joffe, a member of the House of Lords, is currently under consideration in parliament. It passed its second reading in the House of Lords in March, and is now being considered by a Select Committee, where it can either be rejected or amended.

The Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) in Britain has expressed deep concern about it as the legal procedure so far lacks in sufficient open consultation. CMF published a press release on July 27 to comment on the issue.

The main controversy of this bill is the legalization of assisted suicide for competent adult patients who are ‘terminally ill’ and ‘suffering unbearably’. It enables a competent adult who is suffering unbearably as a result of a terminal illness to receive medical assistance to die at his own considered and persistent request; and to make provision for a person suffering from a terminal illness to receive pain relief medication.

Patients who are unable to participate in assisted suicide will be able to receive euthanasia and all that will be required are the signatures of two doctors and two witnesses to the decision.

Peter Saunders, General Secretary of the CMF, commented, “CMF is strongly opposed to the Bill because we believe, if passed, it would open the floodgates to euthanasia in this country.”

In some of the reports from CMF, it explains the drawbacks of legalizing the bill by citing the countries where legal assisted suicide or euthanasia is abused and have led to cases of involuntary euthanasia. This has been demonstrated in the Netherlands. A report commissioned by the Dutch government showed that for 2001, in around 900 of the estimated 3,500 cases of euthanasia the doctor had ended a person’s life without there being any evidence that the person had made an explicit request.

CMF suggests that people with a terminal illness are vulnerable. They often have a false sense of worthlessness and worry about the burden on their family, finance and society. Legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia can impose a great pressure on these patients at the time of making this decision. CMF says, “According to Christian teachings, human beings are made in the image of God and therefore worthy of the utmost respect, protection, wonder and empathy. As a result Christians have always been deeply committed to relieving human suffering and are often involved in palliative care and the hospice movement.” Moreover, “bearing one another’s burdens is at the very heart of Christian morality.”

CMF argues that “meticulous research in Palliative medicine has in recent years shown that virtually all unpleasant symptoms experienced in the process of terminal illness can be either relieved or substantially alleviated by techniques already available”, therefore voluntary euthanasia is unnecessary because alternative treatments exist.

Basically, assisted suicide and euthanasia even breaks the traditional medical ethical codes. Saunders, General Secretary of the CMF, noted, “A bill legalizing euthanasia would change the whole character of medicine, which is aimed at relieving symptoms, treating illness and preserving life. The Hippocratic Oath enjoins doctors to ‘give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest such counsel’.”

Saunders finally added, “... in 1994, the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics opposed any change in the law to allow euthanasia after an extensive enquiry and concluded ‘it was virtually impossible to ensure that all acts of euthanasia were truly voluntary and that any liberalisation of the law in the United Kingdom could not be abused’.”

From now until September 3, 2004, the public is invited to contribute to the consultation process by sending their views in writing or by email to the Select Committee. CMF urges Christians to protest against the legalization of the bill.