Large turnout of MPs and Peers hear about dangers of assisted suicide

A large number of MPs and Peers attended a parliamentary event, this week, on the dangers of assisted suicide and the grim reality its legalisation would bring to the UK.

Politicians from across the political spectrum heard speeches from internationally renowned Dutch ethicist Prof. Theo Boer and Mr Wesley Smith, who has been recognised as “one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics” by the National Journal.

The event, which took place on World Suicide Prevention Day (Thursday 10 September), was hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group and chaired by Fiona Bruce MP.

Ahead of main speeches, the pro-life Conservative MP said: “at this particular time of global pandemic it’s all the more critical that we reassure people that every life is intrinsically valuable.”

‘Default way to die’

In his speech, Dutch ethicist Professor Theo Boer explained how he has experienced the expansion of assisted dying in the Netherlands since it was introduced in 2002.

Prof. Boer was a former advocate of legal euthanasia but changed his mind after seeing its continued expansion both in the Netherlands and other countries and the negative consequences of it.

He revealed that for many people he has witnessed assisted dying become “a default way to die”.

Fear-mongering

Mr Smith said that activists and pressure groups often use fear, in particular fear-mongering on the difficulties of death, to push through their agenda.

He added that people “very rarely” commit assisted suicide because of pain, but do so for existential reasons. These reasons may include being worried about losing their dignity and a fear of being a burden to their families and loved ones.

“I can’t think of anything more cruel than letting somebody who’s having a terrible awful time getting through the night because of existential anguish feel that their deaths have a greater value than their lives,” Mr Smith said.

He added that assisted suicide violates human rights by creating a two-tier system of valuing lives which says to some people ‘Yes your suicide is worth preventing’, but says to others ‘yours isn’t’.

Suicide crisis exacerbated

Both Prof. Boer and Mr Smith believe that the “suicide crisis” in the West is “exacerbated” by allowing assisted dying, despite claims to the contrary from activists and pressure groups.

Prof. Boer highlighted how the number of suicides in the Netherlands has risen by 35% over the past decade, coinciding with a 150% rise in the number of people seeking assisted dying, while the rate has decreased in neighbouring countries which don’t allow assisted dying.

He stated that in Germany, where euthanasia is not possible, the suicide rate has decreased over the past ten years.

Prof. Boer added: “the signal that is being sent to a society is that death is the solution to any form of unbearable and irremediable suffering”.

He further indicated that assisted dying tends to develop from being a last resort to prevent a terrible death into being a last resort to prevent a terrible life.

No medical, legal or political support for assisted suicide

Large pressure groups in favour of assisted suicide and activists have been attempting to force assisted suicide on the UK through the courts, medical bodies and parliament.

However, despite their best efforts, they continue to face obstacles and their efforts have so far been futile.

Not a single doctors group or major disability rights organisation in the UK supports changing the law, including the British Medical Association (BMA), the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Physicians, the British Geriatric Society and the Association for Palliative Medicine.

Last year, the High Court rejected to hold a judicial review of the current law on assisted suicide, with judges stating the court was “not an appropriate forum for the discussion of the sanctity of life”. The Court of Appeal rejected an attempt to challenge this decision last month.

Similarly, in 2018, the Court of Appeal ruled that Parliament was a “better forum” than the courts for determining the issue of legalising assisted suicide.

Parliament has consistently rejected attempts by the assisted suicide lobby to introduce assisted suicide, with MPs voting 330 to 118 against introducing assisted suicide in 2015. 

In January, strong opposition from MPs resulted in the Government rejecting a call for review on assisted suicide, despite the best efforts from large pressure groups in favour of assisted suicide.

The Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC, has reaffirmed this stance on two occasions this year.  

In February, Mr Buckland QC, stated the Government has “no plans” to introduce assisted suicide legislation.

In a letter to Dr Gordon Macdonald, the CEO of anti-euthanasia group Care Not Killing, Mr Buckland said: “Personally, I have grave doubts about the ability of legislation to be watertight when it comes to the potential for abuse.”

He added: “My predecessor was… supportive of a call for evidence but no call was initiated before he left office, nor… does the Government currently have any plans to initiate a call for evidence. This remains my position.”

Mr Buckland QC reaffirmed the Government’s stance in April, during a remote meeting of the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Prime Minister changes stance on assisted suicide

The current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, previously supported introducing assisted suicide to the UK.

However, he apparently had a change of heart after meeting with Lord Falconer, who has twice failed in bringing forward a Bill to introduce assisted suicide to the UK.

During the meeting with Falconer, it became clear to Johnson that supposed safeguards around assisted suicide simply weren’t effective in practice. 

Ironically, he left the meeting, which had been set-up to get him more involved with campaigning for assisted suicide, more aware of the practical issues with allowing assisted suicide.

He then went on to to vote against an assisted suicide bill brought forward by Labour MP Rob Marris in 2015. 

This was a landslide victory for campaigners opposed to the Bill, with 330 MPs voting against the Bill and only 118 in support. 

Ahead of voting against the Bill, Boris Johnson said: “The Bill may seem compassionate but I have serious concerns about it working in practice. I cannot support it.”

In line with his new views, Boris Johnson unveiled an additional £25 million funding for hospices in a bid to ease end-of-life care last year. 

Deeply flawed polling

Assisted suicide pressure groups cite a poll that shows there is widespread support for legislation of assisted suicide, yet experts have heavily criticised the polling as deeply flawed.

Additionally, when asked questions that drill down into the merits of the debate, the percentage of those in support drops dramatically.

Anti-euthanasia billboards stolen and vandalised in New Zealand, as major campaign launches questioning proposals

Billboards across New Zealand urging Kiwis to question whether the introduction of assisted suicide legislation would be safe have been vandalised by activists.

A major advertising campaign, launched by grassroots campaign group VoteSafe.nz, has seen hundreds of signs put up across the country in prominent and high profile locations.  

However, a number of those signs have now either been stolen or vandalised.

A hoarding in Glenfield has now been stolen multiple times while others have been targeted with spray paint. Each time, the billboards were up for a maximum of 48 hours before being vandalised again – likely overnight.

VoteSafe.nz campaign manager, Henoch Kloosterboer, told 1 News that while he was disappointed with the damage, he wasn’t surprised.

“We are hoping that the signs will encourage people to be fully informed before they cast their vote in this binding referendum,” Mr Kloosterboer said.

“We’re passionate about health and wellbeing, and leaving a better, safer New Zealand for future generations. Our goal is to debunk misinformation and to help Kiwis make a truly informed vote when it comes to this binding referendum.”

‘Actions speak louder than words’

Responding to the vandalism, National MP Simon O’Connor went further and said: “Just remember when reading this, that those attacking these billboards are the same people who will say to you that there will be no coercion, no pressure, no bullying, no pushing of their agenda on to the sick, disabled, or elderly.”

He added: “Yeah, right – their actions speak far louder than words.”

First country in the world to put euthanasia to a referendum

New Zealand will become the first country in the world to put euthanasia to a binding public vote, after lawmakers approved a bill laying out what the country’s assisted suicide regime would be last year.

The End of Life Choice Act passed narrowly by 69 votes to 51, ending years of parliamentary debate on assisted suicide following two recent defeats.

The drastic change in law, which will allow assisted dying or euthanasia if certain eligibility criteria are met, will come into effect if the people of New Zealand approve it in a referendum ahead of the country’s 2020 election, which is currently due to take place between 3 – 17 October.

Legal risk lawyers and healthcare professionals have expressed deep concern with the proposed legislation and its lack of safeguards.

These include, no assessment to check individuals aren’t being coerced into assisted dying or euthanasia, no mental health checks and concerns about pressure to choose death due to lack of options and a possible lack of access to good palliative care.

In addition, both the World Medical Association and New Zealand Medical Association are opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide. Over 1,660 New Zealand doctors have come together to form the ‘Doctors Say No’ movement opposing a law change in New Zealand.

In their open letter to New Zealanders, they urge Kiwis to “leave doctors to focus on saving lives and providing real care to the dying.”

Hospice New Zealand, which provides end of life palliative care, also opposes and disagrees with the intent of the Act.

The group is particularly concerned that individuals with a terminal illness may feel pressured to choose death.

Vocal opposition

There has also been very vocal opposition to the proposed change in law.

A record 39,000 public submissions were made while lawmakers were considering the matter, with 90% of submitters opposed to it.

A number of individuals have also come forward to explain why they oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia.

‘Lack of support’

Claire Freeman, who was involved in a car accident causing her to become tetraplegic, has spoken out forcefully against the assisted suicide.

In a short documentary for #DefendNZ, Claire revealed that after attempting suicide more than once health professionals “encouraged [her] to explore assisted suicide”.

During her recuperation in hospital, Claire realised “being offered assisted suicide instead of suicide support was disturbing.”

She added: “I had been told ‘if I was in your position, with your disability, I wouldn’t want to live’ by the very health professionals who are there to help suicide survivors… I realised my biggest problem had been my mindset and a lack of proper support.”

Woman with terminal cancer wants her vote against assisted suicide to count

Vicki Walsh was told in June 2011 her brain cancer diagnosis was terminal and she only had 12 to 14 months to live.

However, now aged 53, Walsh has had nine more years of life since.

Revealing to Newshub why she’s against a change in legislation, Vicki said those additional years of life may not have happened if the choice of assisted dying had been available because she would’ve taken it.

“Obviously euthanasia wasn’t an option, but I had a go at killing myself. So had euthanasia been an option then, it is probably one I would have taken, not realising I was actually depressed,” she said.

Up until then, she had always believed people should have the choice of assisted dying, saying it was, ‘My body, my choice’. But after her suicide attempt, her views changed.

Now, she is enjoying life with her family and hopes to live long enough to have her say against assisted dying.

“I don’t want to rob my children that one smile or one kiss… I’m hoping, really hoping, that I will get my vote in and make my vote count,” she said.

‘This law is not safe’

Dr Huhana Hickey, a human rights lawyer with Multiple sclerosis, says: “I don’t believe this law is safe for the disability community, for the Māori community or for anyone who has a risk factor in their lives.”

Large assisted suicide rate increase as 34% cite concerns of being a burden

The number of assisted suicide and euthanasia deaths in Canada rose by more than 25% in 2019 and made up 2% of all deaths in the country last year, according to a report released by the Canadian Government.

Health Canada’s first annual report on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) found 5,631 Canadians chose to have an assisted suicide in 2019. This is an increase of 26.1% when compared to the 4,467 deaths in 2018, where assisted suicide accounted for 1.57% of the total number of deaths in Canada.

More than a third (34%) of those who opted for “medical assistance in dying” cited concerns of being a burden to family or carers. A further 13.7% cited “isolation or loneliness” as their reason for procuring an assisted suicide.

Last year, 92.2% of requests for MAID were approved out of a total of 7,336 applications.

No conscientious objection

The report claims: “it should be noted that there is nothing in the federal MAID legislation that compels a practitioner to provide or assist in providing MAID.”

However, last year, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that doctors who oppose euthanasia had to participate in the act by doing an effective referral. In March 2020, the Physicians Alliance Against Euthanasia reported that a growing number of physicians are being bullied into participating into providing euthansia or assisted suicide.

Further expansion of assisted suicide and euthanasia in Canada

Earlier this year, the Canadian Government tabled a bill seeking to expand the country’s assisted suicide and euthanasia regime to include people without a terminal illness.

The legislation, titled Bill C-7, comes after the Quebec Superior Court ruled last year that a safeguard requiring patients to prove their natural death was “reasonably foreseeable” was unconstitutional.

According to Reuters, the bill will now “remove the requirement for a person’s natural death to be reasonably foreseeable in order to be eligible for medical assistance in dying,” opening up assisted suicide and euthanasia to those who aren’t terminally ill.

Disability advocates, including the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, have said the court’s decision sent the message that “having a disability is a fate worse than death”.

Troubling concerns over assisted suicide in Canada

Earlier this year, it was revealed the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia in Canada has led to a surge in organ donations and the open solicitation of those considering medically assisted death, raising ethical concerns.

A recent report from a disability rights expert has highlighted very troubling concerns about the impact Canada’s assisted suicide laws are having on people with disabilities.

According to the report, “The Special Rapporteur is extremely concerned about the implementation of the legislation on medical assistance in dying from a disability perspective. She has learned that there is no protocol in place to demonstrate that persons with disabilities deemed eligible for assistive dying have been provided with viable alternatives.”

The report goes on to say: “moreover, she [the special rapporteur] has received worrisome information about persons with disabilities in institutions being pressured to seek medical assistance in dying and of practitioners not formally reporting cases involving persons with disabilities.”

During her visit, the Special Rapporteur said people with disabilities told her “they are being offered the ‘choice’ between a nursing home and medical assistance in dying”.

More than 13,000 Canadians have been given a medically-assisted suicide or euthanasia since it was legalised in September 2016, according to the data from the justice department.

Ethical concerns were raised earlier this year when it was revealed the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia in the country had resulted in a surge of organ donations and the open solicitation of those considering assisted suicide or euthanasia. Additionally, an alarming study found that the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia could save the Canadian health care system up to $138 million per year.

Healthy over 75s targeted in Dutch assisted suicide law expansion

A Dutch MP has tabled a controversial Bill that would allow healthy people to have an assisted suicide if they feel their life is ‘complete’.

Pia Dijkstra, Foreign Minister for the four-party coalition Government and medical ethics lead for coalition party D66, submitted the proposed bill last week.

It would allow healthy individuals over 75-years-old who have “a strong death wish” for at least two months to seek the assistance of an ‘end-of-life supervisor’ to die.

The Bill will now go to the Raad van State judicial advisory committee for review – a process which will take three to six months – before being scheduled for a debate and vote.

It will then need to win a majority vote in the House of Representatives before being passed to the Senate for a debate and vote.

‘Completely unacceptable’

According to Dutch News, the proposals are likely to stoke conflict in the Government, with two of the coalitions four parties being radically opposed to any further expansion of assisted suicide legislation.  

The Christian Union party finds the proposal completely unacceptable and says its timing, during the coronavirus pandemic, is insensitive.

The party leader, Gert-Jan Segers, said: “I find it extraordinarily painful that at a time when old people feel extra vulnerable, D66 submits a proposal that we know will cause many of them increased insecurity and worry.”

Christian Union Party member Carla Dik-Faber added: “D66 chooses against all advice to come up with a law that is literally life-threatening… Instead of a plan to address the concerns, the worrying and needs that the elderly may suffer from, says D66: here you have a pill. I find that very, very bitter.”

Outlining his opposition to the proposals, CDA leader and health minister, Hugo de Jonge, made an appeal to tackle issues of loneliness and social problems faced by the elderly.

In a parliamentary briefing he said: “It is our task to make every effort to ensure that these people find the meaning of life and meaning in life again.”

Outlining their opposition to similar proposals in 2017, the KNMG Royal Dutch Medical Association believe it could have the undesirable effect of stigmatising the aged population.

The medical association said that the government should invest in measures to make sure the elderly do not feel their lives are pointless, over the option of an early death.

Euthanasia on the increase

The Netherlands’ only euthanasia clinic recently revealed that it had seen a 22% increase in requests from people seeking assistance to end their lives last year compared to 2018.

Last month, a Dutch doctor, who was cleared of murder for euthanising a vulnerable woman with dementia, waived her anonymity to declare she did the “right thing”, even though her patient said “no” three times.

In an interview with Dutch current affairs programme Nieuwsuur, Marinou Arends attempted to justify her actions saying they were “for the best”.

Her comments come after a 2019 district court ruling in the Hague stating that doctors in the Netherlands can no longer be prosecuted for carrying out euthanasia on dementia patients who have previously given written consent.

Previously, those with dementia would need to reconfirm their earlier request.