Before a debate on assisted suicide and euthanasia in the Cambridge Union, only two people, out of over two hundred, indicated that they were opposed to it. However, after the debate, over half voted as opposed to it or abstained from voting.
In March this year, the oldest continuously running debating society in the world, the Cambridge Union, debated the motion “This House Believes We Have The Right To Die”.
One of the speakers outlined on Twitter that before the debate only two people out of an audience of over two hundred voted against the motion, but after the debate, more than half the audience had changed their minds and either voted against the motion or abstained from voting.
One of those opposing the motion, Yuan Yi Zhu, an Assistant Professor of International Relations and International Law at Leiden University and a research fellow at Harris Manchester College at the University of Oxford, argued that calling assisted suicide and euthanasia a form of healthcare is a “perversion of the English language”.
He said that supporting assisted suicide means believing that “there are some people whose lives are so wretched that they are quite literally better off dead than alive. That, in other words, there are people whose lives are not worth living”.
“If this is really all about rights, why should a perfectly healthy person who wants to commit suicide be deprived of his autonomy to kill himself?”
He pointed to the expansion of euthanasia and assisted suicide laws in almost every jurisdiction that has made those practices legal, including the Netherlands and Canada.
In the Netherlands, where euthanasia was initially made legal only for adults with a terminal illness who were suffering unbearably, it is now legal to end the lives of disabled infants and it will shortly be legal to end the life of a child thought to be suffering ‘unbearably’ at any age.
Professor Zhu argued that the law expanded in all these places because once dying is thought of as a right, it must be available to all.
“If you say something is a human right, and exclude a group — most of the population in fact — that is by definition discrimination. If this is really all about rights, why should a perfectly healthy person who wants to commit suicide be deprived of his autonomy to kill himself? If someone is standing on a bridge, ready to jump, what right do we have to stop him from killing himself and limit his right to die?” he said.
Exactly this happened in Canada when, in 2019, the law that only allowed terminally ill people to end their lives by euthanasia was struck down.
“The court did so because, it said, it is discriminatory to only allow the terminally ill to die through assisted suicide. Of course, it was right. Now, in Canada, anyone with a serious illness or disability with no prospect of improvement can choose to die via assisted suicide”.
Professor Zhu also urged the audience to consider the impact of social conditions on those who have ended their lives in Canada.
“[R]ight now, as we speak, people in Canada are killing themselves because of deafness, because they were in a wheelchair, because they had allergies. Surprise, the people who have committed suicide for these reasons had one thing in common. They were all poor and could not access adequate care or social support”.
“It is not a coincidence that the people who are featured in pro-assisted suicide publicity campaigns are all articulate, well-off middle-class people. They do not face socio-economic pressures on their very existence”.
The solution, he argued, for people who are in unbearable pain “is better healthcare, better social care, better palliative care”.
Euthanasia in Canada
According to the latest report on Medical Assistance in Dying from Health Canada, 10,064 Canadians ended their lives by assisted suicide or euthanasia in 2021. This figure represents 3.3% of all deaths in Canada and is an increase of 32.4% from the 2020 figures.
A total of 31,664 people have ended their lives by assisted suicide or euthanasia in Canada since legislation making it legal was passed in 2016.
In Canada, 1 in 5 cite loneliness as a reason to want to die
The Canadian report states that 86.3% gave the loss of the ability to engage in meaningful activities as among the main reasons for wanting to end their life. Additionally, 83.4% said the loss of the ability to perform activities of daily living was a reason for wanting to end their lives.
17.3% of people also cited “isolation or loneliness” as a reason for wanting to die. In 35.7% of cases, patients believed that they were a “burden on family, friends or caregivers”.
A study in Ireland found that almost three-quarters of people over 50 who had previously expressed a wish to die no longer had that desire two years later.
Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson said “It’s so encouraging that when people actually hear an articulate case against assisted suicide and euthanasia, they recognise what a bad idea it is. No one on either side wants anyone to suffer needlessly, but as the experience of the Netherlands and Canada shows, assisted suicide and euthanasia are a direct attack on the most vulnerable, which tells them that their lives are not worth living.”
“We should not encourage people to end their lives in general. Those suffering need assistance to live, not to die.”