Rt. Hon. Francis Maude MP
House of Commons
[29th January 2012]
Dear Mr Maude
I am writing to you on behalf of the Pro-Life Group at St John the Evangelist RC Church, Horsham regarding the Falconer report and the recent campaigns for euthanasia and/or assisted suicide to be legalised in the UK. We believe the Falconer report gives great cause for concern and should the question of the legalisation of ‘assisted dying’ be raised once again in the Commons, we would urge that you please vote against it.
Bias in the report
The Commission which produced the report was heavily biased from the outset having been funded by Terry Pratchett, a known supporter of euthanasia and the patron of Dignity in Dying, and with nine of the eleven members of the panel being strongly in favour of the legalisation of assisted suicide. The deal to run the Commission was negotiated by Demoswith the think tank run by Kitty Usher, a former colleague of Patricia Hewitt who, along with Lord Falconer, tried unsuccessfully to change the law in 2009. The Commission was founded with the clear intention to bring about a conclusion in their favour, as its stated aims betray: to ‘…investigate the circumstances under which it should be possible for people to be assisted to die; recommend what system, if any, should exist to allow people to be assisted to die; identify who should be entitled to be assisted to die and recommend what changes in the law, if any, should be introduced’. In light of all the above over 40 organisations (including the British Medical Association), as well as many high profile individuals, boycotted the Commission.
Our major concerns
· The report readily uses the term ‘assisted dying’ when referring to both euthanasia and assisted suicide, thus clouding the distinction between them. This fudging of terms could potentially lead to 13,000 deaths a year in Britain should ‘assisted dying’ ever be made legal (as outlined in the 2005 House of Lords report).
· The report over-emphasises the need for assisted dying without suggesting that any extra effort or investment be placed in improving our current long-term and palliative care systems. Sadly PCT-run palliative care facilities and hospitals vary vastly in terms of care depending on one’s postcode. Hospices, especially the local St. Catherine’s Hospice, deliver excellent care and devotion to their patients but are usually over-subscribed. This situation leaves the terminally ill and elderly in a very vulnerable position.
· Given the circumstances mentioned above, depression would undoubtedly play a huge role in affecting the patient’s judgement; yet the Commission did not make sufficient allowance for the possibility that some people would be pressured into choosing assisted dying at a time when both their physical and psychological health are at their most fragile.
· We are concerned that the report will encourage pro-euthanasia campaigners to renew their efforts to have assisted dying made legal in Britain. These efforts will tend by their very existence to promote a subtext which runs as follows: when someone can no longer support themselves due to illness or old age they constitute a ‘burden’ to family and friends or a drain upon State resources; as they are no longer economically productive there is no basis for them to enjoy a sense of self-worth; it is therefore a kindness to allow them to choose to end their lives with ‘dignity’ before their condition worsens.
Unless we work to change the way illness, disability and age are perceived by our society, there will be no incentive for us to concentrate effort and finance on developing pain management, aids to help patients keep their independence as long as possible and compassionate nursing care. Legalised euthanasia will be seen as the logical and easy option for those faced with the prospect of a long, painful illness. As a result many will miss out on months or years of worthwhile life and our society will be impoverished by the lack of individuals who, by their very vulnerability, can foster the best in human nature in others.
· We fully appreciate the apprehensions of terminally ill patients who are facing the prospect of a long, painful illness, perhaps with the loss of faculties. However we feel that the report fails to give due consideration to the difference in quality of life that can be made through palliative care as mentioned above. The support of other human beings can in itself make life worth living even when it involves suffering.
· Should it become relatively commonplace for people to kill themselves when they are at their most vulnerable this would affect the human value of each and every ill, disabled or aged person. In effect we would have defined them either as non-productive ‘second-class citizens’ or hopeless victims of irredeemable suffering.
· In reply to those who argue that not everyone would choose to die we would draw attention to the words of Els Borst, the former Health Minister for the Netherlands, who pushed for euthanasia to be legalised in her country. She has since said that the Dutch government responded too quickly to demands for euthanasia to be legalised without correct attention being given to support for the dying. She admitted that this was ‘not in the proper order’ and that, ultimately, many have suffered and chosen to die because of this upside-down, hasty decision. This is a truly tragic set of circumstances, one we must not allow to be repeated here in Britain.
· We are writing as a Christian group and as such have a strong belief in the sanctity of human life and the innate dignity of each and every human person, each one of whom is not only made in the image of God but is also a unique individual loved beyond measure by his/her Creator. Whilst we appreciate that not everyone will share our belief in God, we strongly feel that the Christian voice has a right to be heard along with all others in our democratic society, particularly as Christian values have been foundational to the shaping of our country’s laws and governance, a fact the Prime Minister David Cameron reminded us only recently. We also believe that the Christian perspective on the value of each human person in his/her own right, independent of their economic productivity or physical ‘perfection’, is equally valid across all spectrums of belief and philosophy and has an important contribution to make to this particular debate.
Our personal experience
One of our group members has a teenage daughter who is suffering from a degenerative disabling disease. Her hope is that her daughter will be encouraged to look forward to the future with a positive ‘can do’ attitude and a real sense of self-worth, but she is witnessing first-hand, in her daughter’s psychological struggles, that it is not always easy for the disabled to hold on to their sense of dignity. Making euthanasia an easily available and widely acceptable option will not help this mindset.
We hope that you will consider our statement along with those published by organisations such as Care Not Killing, LIFE and dozens of others along with the countless individuals who view human life as inherently dignified and valuable beyond economic price.
I know that many people become disillusioned with politics (and politicians) and believe that things like this make little to no impact on our country and society at all but if we don't try, if we don't speak out against threats to life such as this then we have no hope.