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Opinion

One-way ticket to death? Covid travel ban relaxed to allow people to end their lives overseas

Ann Farmer

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed that ‘people can break lockdown in order to travel abroad for assisted dying’, saying that ‘flying to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland would be considered a “reasonable excuse” under the travel ban’.

In fact ‘assisted dying’ is already available in this country – it is called palliative care, and should be offered to all; however, his intervention came in response to ‘an outcry over the case of a former NHS worker with terminal breast cancer who was forced to bring forward plans for her suicide at the Zurich facility due to fears the new lockdown rules would prevent her from travelling’; the 45-year-old ‘said she felt driven to “go now, before I am truly ready”.’

And yet the whole idea of assisted suicide is to bring death forward; nobody – including doctors – knows precisely how long patients will live, and many patients have outlived the most gloomy of prognoses. One thing is certain, however: if allowed to seek help to commit suicide, a great many will ‘bring forward’ their deaths – and no one will ever know how long they might otherwise have lived.

The ‘right to die’ – otherwise known as the right to commit suicide – is presented as an individual matter into which the rest of society has no right to intrude. However, no man is an island – death does not only involve the one who dies, and as Mr Hancock should know only too well, there will be a great many more cases of terminal cancer; how very convenient, then, for a Secretary of ‘Health and Social Care’ to graciously allow such individuals to go somewhere else to have their lives ended. And it is no coincidence that euthanasia saves money for health care administrators.

Can the public – especially those ‘past their sell-by date’ – really trust a Government that forced care homes to take untested patients from hospitals, and presided over the blanket issue of ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ notices in care homes for the elderly and mentally disabled?

All this was justified because of Covid – and yet so was the decision to send abortion pills to women through the post, a ‘temporary’ measure that looks set to be made permanent. And the abortion clinics have remained open throughout the pandemic – as have Switzerland’s suicide clinics; apparently, it would not do to allow a deadly pandemic to get in the way of ending lives.

Mr Hancock ‘rebuffed calls for a government-led review of the current legislation’ on assisted suicide, insisting that ‘the Government was “neutral” on the matter and that any attempt to change the law must come from Parliament.’ However, Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell, a former Cabinet minister, who tabled the Parliamentary question about the woman who was prevented from going to Switzerland, is now an advocate of ‘assisted dying’, and he will no doubt be buoyed by Mr Hancock’s response, despite the fact that the last attempt to change the law, in 2015, was soundly defeated once Parliamentarians had had the opportunity to examine all the evidence of the terrible outcomes  afflicting societies where the law has been changed. It is now even more clear how easily societies can slide down the slippery slope of convenience dressed up as compassion.

Mr Mitchell ‘said the new lockdown could nevertheless deter people from travelling for assisted suicide, adding: “This will undoubtedly cause many more Britons to suffer as they die due to the lack of a safeguarded law here in the UK.”’ As has been admitted publicly by one euthanasia advocate, legalising assisted suicide with ‘strict safeguards’ is seen by them as a way to ‘get our foot in the door’ prior to throwing it wide open when dying has become a way of life.

But Mr Hancock has effectively changed the law, since he has accepted in fact that people can legally leave the country to do elsewhere what is illegal in this country – regarding which the Government is ‘neutral’. It could be argued that like ‘strict safeguards’, a ‘strictly neutral’ stance on assisted suicide is a mere prelude to accepting it. He did so, apparently, in response to the ‘outcry’ over this particular case, but significantly, the ‘outcry’ over people not getting the treatment they need because of Covid has produced no such swift and efficient response. And given the dire mental health impact of Covid restrictions, it is hardly a helpful response to tell people struggling with sickness and depression in a seemingly endless series of lockdowns that the only way to end it all is to go abroad to commit suicide.

Even if Covid health policy was initially made on the hoof, it is now reprehensible to take such decisions in full knowledge of what they could be covering up. Most bizarrely, Matt Hancock’s decision was made for ‘health’ reasons, and indeed travelling abroad to die could be justified on health grounds, given that those who do so will no longer be ill – because they will no longer be alive. It is argued that such people are ‘going to die anyway’ – well now that will be guaranteed. And the Government will be off the hook, having given those suffering under lockdown the false freedom of death.

Ann Farmer, is a mother of three, grandmother of five and has a disability. She is based in Woodford Green, Essex; and is a poet, illustrator and writer.

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