Marlowe's Shade

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Debate on UK Euthanasia Highlights Abuse

One positive aspect of the debate that is occurring in the House of Lords, according to this Telegram op-ed piece, is that the abuses of euthanasia programs in Holland, Belgium and Oregon are being brought to light.

In Oregon, where assistance but not direct action to end a life is allowed, only one in 700 of the people who died in the state in 2003 availed themselves of the option. In Holland, however, where voluntary euthanasia was made legal in 2002 (though it had been practised for the previous 30 years), one death in 40 was attributed to a termination. There is evidence, too, that 1,000 deaths take place in Holland every year as a result of action by doctors for which no specific request has been given.

Guidelines that had been put in place in Holland to prevent this "medical decision at end of life" were soon ignored and doctors regularly commit involuntary euthanasia. The new law being discussed in Canada leapfrogs right over these guidelines. The UK has an opportunity, like the State of New York did a few years ago, to look at the results of these previous experiments and turn aside.

Some of the physicians opposing the legislation make their points elegantly:

Perhaps the most powerful argument in favour is the principle of autonomy: why should people not have control over their own deaths? But as Alan Johnson, emeritus professor of surgery at Sheffield University, pointed out, obeying the wishes of patients has never been an overriding ethical imperative for doctors. "If it were, I would have done many unnecessary operations and some harmful operations in my time as a surgeon," he told the committee. Timothy Maughan, professor of oncology at Cardiff University, said the Joffe Bill "clearly crosses a Rubicon". It would "remove a clear line where we do not kill people".

Most of Europe finds the utilitarian arguments of the right-to-die movement irresistable. Hopefully the UK will not be tempted, if not out of moral concerns, then based on a pragmatic understanding of the law of unintended consequences.
papijoe 7:36 AM