Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 64(3) August 2014

Assisted Dying Bill: The death of Hippocrates.

HippocratesWith the recent debate in the House of Lords on Assisted Suicide, we are all called to do all we can to protect the vulnerable and oppose assisted suicide. Hippocrates set out in crystal clear terms the rejection of abortion and of assisted suicide. He stated:

“I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone. 
I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion”

And thus he stated clearly that the most respected of professions must renounce abortion and euthanasia in perpetuity. If Assisted Suicide is legalised in this country then medicine will have abandoned its ethical foundation and doctors will have completed their transition to being killers.

In world where killing is so much easier than care, how can we expect patients to trust us if we are willing to kill those whom we treat? Medicine is about compassion. The Francis report showed beyond doubt that a health service which is not compassionate is a disaster.

A high profile campaign for assisted suicide has persuaded many people that intolerable suffering is common and best solved by allowing the killing of those who suffer. Actually, that will enable the poor care of far more people. And with good palliative care, and a willingness to treat distress in those who are dying, there really is no need for assisted suicide.

Killing of those who do not want to be killed.

sick elderly ladyThere is in the proposed legislation two further deeply sinister deceptions.

Firstly, we know that many older people want to die so that they are not a burden on their children. Baroness Warnock has already said that those who are a burden on society have a duty to die [1]. In 2008 she said “"Actually I've just written an article called 'A Duty to Die?' for a Norwegian periodical. I wrote it really suggesting that there's nothing wrong with feeling you ought to do so for the sake of others as well as yourself." Assisted Suicide will impart that duty upon the sick and frail and many will die as a result. Socrates drank his own Hemlock (poison). So too will many older people drink their poison because they feel they have to.

Worse still perhaps is the position of those who lack mental capacity. The Bill states clearly that this proposal is only for those who have capacity. But if the Bill passes, then we know that we are living in the land of equal opportunities and no discrimination against disability. That means that there will inevitably therefore be cases brought to Court demanding that those who cannot choose to die should be killed in their “Best Interests”. We have seen how often people are killed in Holland without their consent, and we should have no doubt. If this Bill passes we can be confident that the Courts will be forced to allow the poisoning of those who lack capacity as well.

Good care and not killing

Killing is an easy alternative to good care which requires skill and dedication. We must continue to do all we can to protect the vulnerable. As Bishop Davies has said elsewhere in this journal, we face the great battle of our life-times. We must not replace good care with killing. We must not allow Hippocrates to die.