Euthanasia and Assisted Dying is Cruel, and it Has No Place in UK Law | Jessica Walker
On the 20th June 2020 I tuned into a Webinar which was being hosted by ‘Hope Ireland’, who are a coalition of medical professionals and disability rights advocates. The topic being discussed was a conversation about Euthanasia and Assisted Dying (HopeIreland, 2020).
Briefly, what is ‘Euthanasia and Assisted Dying’? – Euthanasia involves the active steps taken to end someone’s life and the “final step” is performed by someone other than the individual, such as a Doctor. If the person who would be subject to the lethal dose of medication requests this, then it falls under the category of “voluntary Euthanasia”. There is also non-voluntary Euthanasia, where the person is unable to give their consent to treatment and another person takes the decision on their behalf. This usually occurs because the ill person previously expressed a desire for this to happen once they reached a certain point of incapacity (NHS, 2017)
Fortunately, both Euthanasia and Assisted Dying are currently illegal under English Law and they carry sentences between 14 years and life imprisonment (NHS, 2017). Despite these very important laws in place, the attitudes of the British Public are changing towards Euthanasia and Assisted Dying. In an article written for The Guardian, it was revealed that a survey taken in 2017 by ‘The British Social Attitudes Survey’ shows that 78% of the UK supports the idea of doctors ending the life of a terminally ill person who requests it.
Dr Des O’Neill, a panellist on the Hope Ireland Webinar and a Doctor of Geriatric Medicine shed light on why the British public are now supporting Euthanasia. He believes that as the average life expectancy is increasing in the UK and many people are now living well into their eighties and even nineties, adults are developing a sense of existential distress about old age and the complications that come along with being a much older person. This goes hand in hand with the idea that people are concerned about becoming a ‘burden’ to their family in their older age and they are often worried about who is going to take care of them. Dr O’Neill argues that we can shift these worries and concerns by really changing the way we look at generational responsibility in the UK.
We need strong communities in Britain to rally behind older people and ensure that they are going to be supported and cared for. This can be as simple as inviting an older person who lives nearby to have dinner one evening at your house, which means they don’t have to cook themselves if they now struggle to do so. In my Church and many others, we run a volunteer programme centred around doing maintenance and garden work for those in the community who can no longer do it themselves. We do this because we have a shared understanding that it is our duty to serve others in our community. That is what Jesus did; in Philippians 2:3 we are taught to “value others above yourselves”. As adults we should feel that it is our responsibility to offer our support to older people, and we need to let them know that we are here for them. Even when an older person receives a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease or Dementia, we need to remind them that they have our support and we need them to know their lives are valuable. There is no need to turn to Euthanasia and Assisted Dying. Every life is sacred, and every life is valuable. The life of a fourteen-year-old is just as sacred as the life of a ninety-five-year-old.
Another panellist on the webinar, disability rights activist and crossbencher for the House of Lords Tanni Grey-Thompson talked about the dangers that would arise if Euthanasia and Assisted Dying became legal in the UK. I found it particularly harrowing when she recalled a letter, she had received from a supporter of Euthanasia who desperately wanted Mrs. Grey-Thompson to change her mind on the issue, all so they could sell their ill Grandmother’s house. This clearly shows that, currently, it is unrealistic to assume that every family is loving and that every family wants what is best for their older relatives.
Unfortunately, those who campaign in support of Euthanasia and Assisted Dying tend to use the most extreme example of a person who wants to die by Euthanasia to illicit the most sympathy and understanding from the public. This is typically the example of a person in their nineties who is suffering immensely from an incurable illness which will eventually make them unable to move and function properly. What these groups do is they blatantly ignore the cases where people fall victim to the legalisation of Euthanasia and Assisted Dying. For example, in 2019 a seventeen year old Dutch girl named Noa Pothoven was legally allowed to die in the Netherlands– where Euthanasia is legal- because she felt like her life was unbearable due to her ongoing battle with depression.
The reality is that all Laws are created and enacted on by infallible human beings who frequently make mistakes. Every legal case is dealt with and decided on by human beings who have to use their own reason and judgement in correspondence with the Law. This means that there is no guarantee that vulnerable people will be protected against Euthanasia and Assisted Dying if these practices became legal in the UK. If Euthanasia and Assisted Dying became legal in the UK, there would be older people who are manipulated into ending their lives, like Ms. Pathoven who have their lives tragically ended. Communities would turn their back on older and more vulnerable members and ultimately society would cast a general attitude of disdain and neglect towards older people.
An important question now must be answered: How can we ensure that innocent human life does not fall victim to Euthanasia and Assisted Dying? As a Christian I believe that the answer here lies in the Biblical worldview. In an audio transcript of a podcast from March 10th 2016 on Euthanasia, the Theologian John Piper reiterates key Biblical principles which stand in opposition to the legalisation of Euthanasia. Both the Old and New Testament command us not to murder, the 5th Commandment found in Exodus 20:13 is “You shall not murder”. This applies to Euthanasia and Assisted Dying.
Furthermore, the phrase “don’t shed innocent blood” appears 19 times in the Bible: we should not be taking the life of a person who doesn’t deserve to have their life taken away. Piper also argues that Christian conviction is the dominant control of the behaviour of a Christian, rather than any Laws passed by governments. This means that a Doctor who believes that the Bible is the inherent and authoritative word of God, should not take the life of an innocent human being. The role of a Doctor is to sustain life, not take life. As the Creator of all life, only God has the ultimate right to dictate when life should be taken away. In James 4:15 we learn that “If the Lord wills, we will live” and there should be no exceptions to this. When Euthanasia and Assisted Dying is practised, we are actively taking away the rights which belong to God. We are not meant to decide when life should be taken away, that is a decision which should remain up to God.
Photo by Alberto Biscalchin on Flickr.