British Doctors Discuss Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide at Meeting

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 28, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Doctors Discuss Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide at Meeting Email this article
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by Maria Vitale Gallagher Staff Writer
June 28, 2005

London, England ( — British doctors are debating whether they should grant the death wish of patients who want physicians to help them die.

The debate occurred this week at the British Medical Association conference in Manchester, where many delegates said that assisted suicide is “morally wrong" and should not be supported by the BMA.

The BMA has historically opposed euthanasia and assisted suicide, but some pro-euthanasia activists are lobbying the organization to change its stand.

Dr. Greg Gardner of Birmingham said it was impossible to define intolerable suffering and that a change in the law could increase the number of people the term applies to and lead to their deaths. For example, a person with a disability or a mental illness could be included in the definition of severe suffering.

“The legalization of assisted suicide brings on an approval of a culture of death," Gardner said. He noted that in the U.S. state of Oregon, which permits assisted suicide, there have been television programs showing people how to kill themselves.

“The suicide rate in Oregon in the over 65s is one-and-a-half times the national average and there are significant concerns about the adolescent suicide rate," Gardner said.

In trying to promote a change in the law, Dr. Paddy Glackin from Brent said, “We cannot control every patient’s suffering and to suggest that we can is arrogant. If we say to patients in that situation you do not have any right to die, we are effectively saying you have a duty to suffer."

But Dr. Jane Orr insists that no one has a right to be killed by a doctor.

“Let us as health care professionals get on with the task of working to get a genuinely gentle and easy death that all patients deserve," Orr said. “The late Pope’s example demonstrates what real death with dignity means. He came to the end with courage, hope and serenity with balanced medical intervention and effective palliative care," she added.

During the last Parliament, Lord Joffe introduced a bill that would have permitted the so-called “right to die." The bill ran out of time when the election was called, but it is expected to be reintroduced.

Dr. Michael Wilks, chairman of the BMA’s ethics committee, said it was right for doctors to discuss the issue. He said they will be trying to come to a consensus as far as whether there’s a difference between assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia.

“The BMA has always maintained there is no difference and has remained opposed to a change in the law. But there are some suggestions that there are mixed opinions within the profession," Wilks said.

Julia Millington of the Pro-Life Party said there is no difference between assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia.

“This debate is just clouding the issue and using terms which might be more appealing," Millington said.

Millington and other pro-life activists do not want Britain to go the way of Holland, where one in 40 deaths is attributed to assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia.

Earlier this year, Nuala Scarisbrick of the British pro-life group LIFE said euthanasia campaigners have invoked the catchphrase “quality of life" to try to sell their agenda to the public.

“Doctors have no training in measuring ‘quality of life,’ Scarisbrick said. “No one has. It is a subjective and dangerous catchphrase of the eugenics and euthanasia lobbies. Doctors have a duty to care for all patients, not to pick and choose according to some arbitrary and unscientific criterion."