Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill: Select Committee Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:56 pm on 10th October 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Knight of Collingtree Baroness Knight of Collingtree Conservative 6:56 pm, 10th October 2005

My Lords, I, too, begin with a tribute to the Select Committee, which did a difficult job extremely well, but there can be no doubt of the validity of the comments of the National Council for Palliative Care in its responses to the report. It says that much more evidence should be sought and lists eight crucial areas that have not been properly examined. Even one of those eight could be enough to stop the Bill in its tracks.

Euthanasia seems quite cosy and humane when it is first suggested: "Let's stop suffering. Let's get doctors to help us out of this vale of tears when things get rough. We put down dogs, cats and horses. Why not humans?". Humans are not dogs, cats or horses. Doctors are not killers. Suffering can be ended without ending life. In Oregon, where euthanasia is legal, palliative care is now regarded as unnecessary. What about that for a slippery slope? Apparently, in Oregon, they do not bother to make palliative care available at all—because killing is.

The more evidence that one receives and the more thought that one gives to the actuality of euthanasia, the more one turns against it. Certainly, legalising it puts elderly and helpless people at terrible risk. They know that, which is why so many of them are afraid of what our conclusions may be. Some people say that doctors already kill and have done so for years. Where is the firm evidence? Surely we can all agree that there is no more grave matter than bringing about the death of a human being. Hearsay evidence is not enough when deciding whether, how or in what circumstances killing should be allowed. Not nearly enough is known about palliative care, the extent to which suffering can be contained or how advances in medical techniques and expertise are changing and improving life for sick people all the time. Surely, it is far better to recognise and encourage research into all of that, rather than to forget it and kill people, as is happening in Oregon.

There has been no attempt to answer fears that the Bill could lead to the widespread killing of people who have neither asked nor wanted to be killed. The evidence from Holland shows another slippery slope that has been slipped on well and truly. Surely, no one can say that it has been in a good direction. Doctors in Holland openly admit that legalising euthanasia has led to the killing every year of 1,000 people who never asked to be killed. That may save money, it may empty hospital beds and it may get rid of troublesome people, but, unless Harold Shipman was right, it is wrong. No wonder more than 10,000 people in Holland now carry cards in their wallets saying, "Do not kill me".

Something else is very sinister in the Dutch law, and we have not heard about it yet: it permits children aged between 12 and 17 to ask for euthanasia and to get it. That cannot be either ethical or logical. As many of your Lordships surely know from experience, teenagers are often plunged into moods of black depression by the most trivial things: a football team loses, a love affair goes wrong or an exam is looming. "I just want to die!", they wail. To take them at their word is wicked. To allow such children to be legally killed when they have their whole life ahead and have no experience of how wonderful life can be and no understanding that all disasters end is wrong. They are often immature, emotional and sad little souls who need love, care, help and hope—not death.

We should look more closely at how legalised euthanasia is working elsewhere: at the many examples of the dangerous slippery slope that it opens up; at the denial of human rights that it involves and the terrible fears that it heralds. Nowhere in either the report or the Bill can I find any surety that we could avoid the experience that other countries have faced before us.

Finally, I worry that doctors who fundamentally objected to killing their patients would be forced to do so or would have to leave the profession if the Bill were passed. The Select Committee worried about that too. How could such doctors be protected? In this country, we have huge numbers of Muslim, Hindu, Christian and other doctors whose faith directs them only to cure. We could not staff either GP surgeries or the hospital service without them. How can we pass a law that would give patients the right to a procedure that so many doctors object to carrying out, while giving doctors the right not to carry out that procedure? Will we have official lists of doctors who will kill and those who will not? Oh, please not.