Publication date: Thursday, 5th August 2021
PDF: Medically Assisting Suicide: Reviving a Bad Idea
Why, many people may ask, has another Bill for Assisted Dying been introduced in the House of Lords, especially given the failure of many previous measures?
In Medically Assisting Suicide: Reviving a Bad Idea, Professor David Albert Jones notes that the legalisation of assisted suicide has been raised on numerous occasions since 1936. Its supporters have included Charles Millard, founder in 1935 of the Voluntary Euthanasia Legalisation Society, which campaigned for the legalisation of euthanasia in Great Britain. Jones observes that the Assisted Dying Bill represents a slippery slope best avoided:
It is important to focus on questions of principle and the big picture as the experience from other jurisdictions is that the details can and will change and supposed safeguards will fall away. Once the law is passed, euthanasia will expand in terms of practice and by means of future amendments to the law.
Jones, who is Professor of Bioethics at St Mary’s University, Twickenham and Director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre is Oxford, draws on the experience in other jurisdictions, particularly Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada and California, where assisted suicide has been lawful for some time, to highlight the moral, ethical and many other dimensions and complexities associated with assisted dying. Switzerland is seen as the ‘Wild West of assisted suicide’, but developments in other countries are also troubling. Jones mentions a case in the Netherlands where:
A woman with dementia who had an advance decision requesting euthanasia had to be restrained while she was injected with the lethal dose, because she was resisting. This action was upheld as lawful.
Jones questions the Assisted Dying Bill from a number of perspectives and poses a variety of questions, including:
- If it is appropriate to encourage or assist suicide among people who are in the last six months of life, why is it not appropriate for those who fear they will suffer for a much longer period?
- If it is appropriate to encourage or assist suicide for terminally ill patients, why is it not permitted for a doctor to end the life of a terminally ill patient at the patient’s request, where that is what the patient would prefer?
Jones observes that a significant proportion of those who opted for assisted suicide gave the reason of “becoming a burden” as their primary motive for wanting to end life.
He concludes that:
Rather than encouraging or assisting suicide among people with sickness and disability, what is needed is a constant effort to find new ways to help people to live well and to do so for the whole of their lives.
Notes to Editors:
Medically Assisting Suicide: Reviving a Bad Idea By David A. Jones will be published by Politeia on Thursday, 5th August 2021.
1. Established in 1995, Politeia is an independent, non-party think-tank providing a forum to discuss economic, constitutional and social policy with a particular focus on the role of the state in people’s lives.
2. Dr David Albert Jones is Professor of Bioethics, St Mary’s University, Twickenham and Director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre in Oxford. He is also a Fellow of Blackfriars Oxford and Vice-Chair of Ministry of Defence Research Ethics Committee. His publications include: Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: Lessons from Belgium (Cambridge University Press, 2017, co-editor with Chris Gastmans and Calum MacKellar); The Moral Philosophy of Elizabeth Anscombe. (Imprint Academic, 2016, co-editor with Luke Gormally and Roger Teichmann); and Approaching the End: a theological exploration of death and dying (Oxford University Press, 2007).