From tragedy to laughter: The slippery slope of euthanasia

Ann Farmer

The news that three doctors have been cleared of murdering a 38-year-old Belgian woman, Tine Nys, after being charged with ‘unlawfully poisoning’ her in April 2010 (‘Doctors cleared in Belgian euthanasia case‘, Telegraph, February 1, 2020), shows how far Belgium has slid down the slippery slope since legalising euthanasia in 2002.

The law allows adults to be killed on request, ‘on condition that [they] are facing unbearable physical or mental suffering resulting from a serious and incurable disorder’; however, it has taken ten years for the doctors to be tried, and since Ms Nys’s death, euthanasia has been ‘extended to terminally ill children in 2014’, and the ‘mental suffering’ stipulation has been extended to ‘twins born deaf and becoming blind who were unable to bear not being able to communicate with each other’; in addition, in Holland recently a doctor ‘was cleared after being accused of failing to secure proper consent from a woman with Alzheimer’s’, although prosecutors subsequently appealed the verdict.

Not only have the criteria for euthanasia, originally allowed only with ‘strict safeguards’, been extended, but it is becoming normalised – the first resort, rather than the last.

Ms Nys’s parents and sisters, ‘who were present at her death, claimed the procedure was carried out in an amateurish manner and that Ms Nys did not have an incurable mental disorder’; elsewhere, it is reported that her parents and two sisters only ‘succeeded, after nine years of harassing the bureaucracy, in having charges laid’ against Joris van Hove, the doctor who administered the lethal injection, along with the general practitioner, Frank de Greef and psychiatrist Godelieve Thienpont.

It emerged that Ms Nys ‘had been estranged from her family for years’, experienced violent relationships, had an abortion and worked as a prostitute; in fact, Dr Thienpoint ‘diagnosed her as autistic not long before the death’, and viewed “[e]verything in her life [as] a failure”’.  

Dr van Hove admitted that he had never committed a euthanasia for psychological suffering before and that he had been ‘clumsy. He had not completed his “end-of-life” training’ and ‘failed to administer the lethal injection properly. He did not have a stand for the infusion and the bag plopped onto Tine’s face as she was saying goodbye to her family. He neglected to bring a blank death certificate.’

It also emerged that Tine ‘had asked Dr de Greef for a letter authorising euthanasia, but he refused. So she went to LEIF, a euthanasia group which supplies euthanasia doctors, and found Dr van Hove’, who ‘dropped by Dr de Greef on the evening of April 27, 2010 at 8pm and asked him to sign a paper. Apparently de Greef misunderstood what he was signing, because he claimed to have been aghast when he learned that Tine had been euthanised shortly after the visit.’

This ‘occasioned two breaches of the conditions which shield doctors from prosecution for murder in Belgium’ – firstly, Dr van Hove ‘falsely listed Dr de Greef as the first doctor confirming that Tine was eligible for euthanasia’, and secondly, ‘the paperwork arrived at the euthanasia commission nearly four weeks late.’ Despite this, Dr van Hove ‘told the court that the euthanasia procedure had been carried out within the law’ and ‘protested that the very fact that the case had reached the stage of prosecution was a victory for the “hidden agenda” of the Catholic Church.’ 

Legalising euthanasia always gives rise to legal ‘grey areas’ as it becomes accepted as the answer to suffering, prompting more and more mentally disturbed people to seek assisted suicide from doctors who are reluctant to grant their request but also doctors only too anxious to grant it – so much so, that this case has exposed the whole ‘dignified death’ idea as a joke against people who need above all to be cared for, not killed.

Careering down the slippery slope, euthanasia has gone from tragedy to comedy, and this long overdue court case should be seen as being about the need to protect doctors from the law that is killing patients; after all this time, injustice has prevailed.

All opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of Right To Life UK.

Lord Alton: ‘Denying a right to life should deny a right to your vote’

Find out where your local candidates stand on abortion.
ASK YOUR MP CANDIDATES TO SIGN THE BOTH LIVES PLEDGE NOW

Speaking tonight (November 28th 2019) at Oxford University’s Keble College, David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool) will say that:

“Political parties and their candidates gravely underestimate millions of the quiet people of Britain when they assume that no-one reads the small print of their manifestos – and cast their votes accordingly.

“They have read the Labour Party’s commitment to bring in a new law to permit abortion up to birth and the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to abortion up to 24 weeks into pregnancy. This is a licence to kill babies who can be born and live.

“Combined with the delisting and deselection of candidates, because they dare to question the humanity of ending the lives of 9 million babies in the womb, this trespasses into an area which was once entirely a matter of conscience and a subject worthy of free speech.

“Along with the Conservative Party, the Opposition parties have also supported the imposition of abortion in Northern Ireland – making a mockery of devolution.

“All of this, and their combined refusal to support legislation to strengthen conscience provision – for people like midwives who do not want to be involved in one abortion every three minutes –  reveals an illiberalism that discredits democratic politics.

“Conscience, constituents, country should come before conformism to Party dogma.

“I salute those brave candidates, from all parties, who have signalled their willingness to be politically courageous rather than politically correct, to insist that both lives matter, and to speak truth to power, and to vote accordingly in Parliament.

“I hope that before casting their votes electors will establish where their local candidates stand and put the very right to life above all other considerations.”

The abortion lobby has made it clear that they will be seeking to introduce an extreme abortion proposal in the next Parliament, most likely as an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill.

Right To Life UK is encouraging constituents to find out where their MP candidates stand on abortion by visiting www.righttolife.org.uk/bothlives where it takes 30 seconds to ask their candidates to sign the Both Lives Pledge.

Lord David Alton will be speaking to Oxford Students for Life at 6pm tonight.

Find out where your local candidates stand on abortion.
ASK YOUR MP CANDIDATES TO SIGN THE BOTH LIVES PLEDGE NOW

All opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of Right To Life UK.

Abortion regulator, RCOG, looks into foetal pain… but who looks into them?

For months we have been aware of the discriminatory disparity in patient care: that unborn babies aged 20-24 weeks gestation undergoing spina bifida surgery receive foetal painkillers, but that babies of the same age being aborted are not given painkillers. 

MPs have been lobbying the Department of Health and Social Care who have finally raised the issue of the use of foetal painkillers in late term abortions with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG). 

This would be welcome news because one would assume that the RCOG would recommend that all babies from a gestational age of 20 weeks onwards would receive painkillers prior to any invasive procedure.

However, RCOG’s track record suggests otherwise.

When they were first asked by the Department of Health to investigate foetal pain in 1997, they concluded that consultants should consider the need for the use of painkillers for ‘diagnostic or therapeutic procedures’ on foetuses in utero. Indeed, the Department of Health admitted that foetal painkillers are used in cases of in utero surgery from 20 weeks gestation. But what about in cases of abortion? If an unborn child needs painkillers for ‘diagnostic or therapeutic procedures’, surely they need them all the more in an abortion? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the RCOG omitted to raise or answer these awkward questions.

To do so would risk humanising the unborn baby our society has worked so hard to dehumanise, at least when it comes to abortion. This is why we witness this curious doublethink whereby unborn babies in need of ‘diagnostic or therapeutic procedures’ are given painkillers, but babies to be aborted are not. In the former case, the baby is (presumably) wanted, and therefore acknowledged to be a baby capable of feeling pain and entitled to pain relief. In the latter, the unwanted baby, destined to be aborted, amazingly enough, can feel no pain (according to RCOG at least).

How do we know that the baby destined to be aborted can feel no pain? Well, in 2010, the RCOG looked into this question confidently announcing that before a 24 week abortion,   “No, the fetus does not experience pain”.

In fact, the RCOG go even further than this. In their 2010 Guidelines on Fetal Awareness they assert that the unborn baby is in an unconscious state and does not reach consciousness until birth. This conclusion is based on, in the words of RCOG 2010 ‘good’, ‘increasing’ evidence, but this evidence was one paper from 1986: an experiment on sheep foetuses exposed to low oxygen levels. As a result, they concluded, and ever since have advised mothers accordingly, that there is no requirement for foetal painkillers prior to an abortion at any gestational age even up to the point of birth. 

Again though, this does not square with practice in relation to in utero corrective surgery on unborn babies.

Sadly this is not surprising given the varied lengths RCOG has gone to in dehumanising the unborn baby whose life will come to an end in abortion. For example, specifically using language which ignores the humanity of the child such as ‘products of conception’, a ‘pregnancy’ and, by the president of the RCOG, likened to a bunion

Moreover, the RCOG, who author all clinical guidelines for the UK abortion industry and have many members who benefit from this, are effectively unaccountable without checks or oversight. The Department of Health does not let the tobacco industry govern itself, but it does allow this freedom to the abortion industry, worth an estimated £118 million annually in 2011. They also use their position of unchecked authority to advise parliament and publish their version of abortion advice to schools.

RCOG clinical guidelines are more untouchable than the law itself. Our law is made by elected representatives in the open to serve the country; their clinical guidelines are made by an unaccountable body behind closed doors to serve themselves.

So, based on their past form and knowing that they can publish unaccountably, what advice will they come up with for these babies being aborted without painkiller? Unless their hand is forced, anything they wish.

Until RCOG say otherwise, around ten mothers a day* continue to proceed with a very late term abortion (post 20 weeks) under the assurance that their baby will feel no pain and so does not need painkiller. Yet in the same hospitals, mothers with babies of the same age are assured that their baby will feel no pain because foetal painkillers will be given.

*In 2018, there were 3,602 abortions after 20 weeks. Therefore, there were approximately 10 late term abortions (post 20 weeks) every day in 2018. (See Abortion statistics 2018: data tables T5)

All opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of Right To Life UK.

All opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of Right To Life UK.

Forced abortion: is it really in anyone’s “best interests”?

Last week the Court of Appeal unanimously overturned a ruling forcing an abortion on a 24-year-old, mentally disabled woman (hereafter, AB), by Justice Lieven in the Court of Protection. The original judgment was released this week and it is worth examining to understand how we almost arrived at that horrific point where the state can force one of its own citizens to have an abortion. There is a lot to say but I would like to consider just two points of interest: the woman’s disability and the application of the “best interest” test. 

Firstly, in considering the “best interests” of AB, Justice Lieven comments that she has “to focus on AB as an individual and her best interests, not societal views in termination [nor] the rights of disabled people in general.” Yet disability cannot simply be disregarded in favour of focusing on an AB as ‘an individual’; her disability is a fundamental part of who she is and ironically the crux of the judgment rests on this.  There are specific human rights obligations which arise here.

In 2018, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) released a joint statement mapping out a human rights based approach to the sexual and reproductive health needs of women with disabilities. Particular emphasis is rightly given to the obligation of a state to ensure that women with disabilities are protected against forced abortion.  States should also ensure that women have access to evidence-based and unbiased information.

While the Justice believes AB cannot fully understand the decision at hand here, questions should be asked about the nature of information given to her. The Barrister leading the NHS legal team in this case, told the Court of Appeal that AB “…was told she would go to sleep. She would have an operation and when she woke up the baby would no longer be in her tummy. But she would get a new doll.” This is both patronising and deliberately misleading information. The Justice herself said that “as the pregnancy has developed AB has more understanding that she is pregnant, and that means she has a baby inside her, and that it will be born.”

CEDAW and CRPD are clear that women should not be forced to undergo an abortion against their will, or without their informed consent, though I appreciate that even with unbiased and evidence based information, by virtue of her disability,  AB still might not be able to give informed consent.

All parties were unanimous in their agreement that AB did not have capacity and therefore the judgment focused on the application of the ‘best interests test’ to determine the best course of action.  The purpose of this test, as summarised in Aintree University Hospital v [James], is to focus on the individual and not just medical conduct.  A ‘best interest test’ must contain “a strong element of substituted judgment” taking into account: past and present wishes/feelings of the person, other factors he would consider, beliefs and values likely to influence their decision if they had capacity, and full consultation with carers and other interested parties. Justice Lieven feels weight cannot be given to AB’s feelings/wishes as she considers them unclear and subject to change. 

However, she is clear in her judgment that AB “is happy that she is pregnant and likes the idea of having a baby. I think that it shows if she was making the choice, at this moment she would not want a termination.”  

Whilst it is felt she cannot make ‘the choice’, the most surprising element of this judgment for me is that no weight is given to the opinions of carers and interested parties.  Alongside AB, her mother (a midwife by profession), her social worker and the official solicitor strongly felt the continuation of her pregnancy was in her best interests. Although the local authority adopted a neutral stance, they still laid out their plans for care of the child should AB continue with her pregnancy.

If the purpose of the best interests’ test is to focus on the individual and not solely medical conduct, why was only medical opinion given weight in this case? And why was there so little apparent focus on “the individual”? The Supreme Court is clear that “decision-makers must look at…welfare in the widest sense, not just medical but social and psychological…and they must consult with others who are looking after [them]…in particular for their view of what [their] attitude would be.”

If Justice Lieven feels harm is inevitable whichever path is taken here, surely the opinion of those who have worked closely and extensively with AB over a number of years are therefore best positioned to advocate for her and make this judgment.  Consideration, yet no weight, was given to their views and in my opinion, this was a dangerously narrow and partial application of the ‘best interests’ test.

It is difficult to fully analyse just what has gone on here, the details are still incomplete and the full picture will not be clear until the Court of Appeal judgment is released. However, it is a judgment riddled with contradictions and with little regard for the rights of disabled people. The Justice herself recognises how immensely intrusive a forced abortion would be and the draconian nature of a state ordered termination on a non-compliant woman, yet proceeds in this manner anyway, preferring to rely on tentative psychological speculation as opposed to the voices of those who, professionally and personally, are best placed to make this decision.

Thankfully overturned, this judgment feeds into wider debates about the role and reach of the State in such medical decisions and questions have to be asked as to what weight, if any, Courts are giving to those closest to the person in question. We must continue to be vigilant as this area of law develops, as forced abortion might just be the tip of the iceberg.

All opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of Right To Life UK.

All opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of Right To Life UK.