British Royal Society of Medicine Rejects Motion to Support Assisted Suicide

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 5, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Royal Society of Medicine Rejects Motion to Support Assisted Suicide

by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 5
, 2010

London, England ( — The British Royal Society of Medicine hosted a day conference and evening debate on the ethics of assisted suicide and concluded the event with an overwhelming vote against a motion to support assisted suicide. The vote doesn’t mean physicians at the conference didn’t push euthanasia.

Anthony Ozimic, SPUC’s communications manager, was in attendance at the forum and says there were assisted suicide advocates who spoke in favor of the practice.

"Lord MacKay, a former Lord Chancellor, was the day’s first main speaker. He spoke about the findings of the 2005 House of Lords select committee on Lord Joffe’s assisted suicide bill, which he chaired," Ozimic said.

The committee found that accurate prognosis of terminal illness is virtually impossible at a distance of months, and disease can interfere with a patient’s mental competence, Ozimic noted.

Joffe admitted to the committee that the definition of suffering in his bill was a subjective test (i.e. determined by the sufferer) not objective (i.e. determined independently).

Professor David Albert Jones, a bioethicist, argued against assisted suicide.

According to Ozimic, he argued there are two types of slippery slope, one empirical (based on observation of data) and one logical (based on connections between rational arguments) and said acceptance of voluntary euthanasia concedes the idea that suicide or euthanasia is a benefit (i.e. good) for some people, that their lives are not worth living and that they are better off dead.

Ozimic said Jones argued the Netherlands is a good example of the slippery slope.

"Under the euthanasia regime in The Netherlands, there have been hundreds of reported cases of lives having been ended without request or consent. This practice is officially condoned and such deaths are not treated seriously as unlawful killing. There is a lack of outrage about this because it has been widely accepted that suicide or euthanasia can be a benefit," he said.

Later, Simon Kenwright of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, which now bills itself as Dignity in Dying, said that in Britain "we already practice passive euthanasia through the withdrawing and withholding of therapy."

Ozimic responded: "I don’t think his VES/DID colleagues will be happy about that admission. They deny that withdrawing and withholding of therapy (e.g. Bland, the Mental Capacity Act) can constitute euthanasia, and they now claim to oppose euthanasia."

Peter Carter, head of the Royal College of Nursing, also appeared at the forum and tried to explain why the RCN has moved from a position of opposition to assisted suicide to a position of neutrality.

"Ominously, he told us that the RCN is consulting with a wider range of stakeholders on the issue. To me, this is ‘officialese’ for saying that he’s moving the RCN in the direction of endorsing assisted suicide," Ozimic said.

"Sir Graeme Catto, former president of the General Medical Council (GMC), also ominously explained that the GMC has moved beyond proscribing bad things for doctors to do, to advising doctors about how they can be good doctors. He gave his personal view in favor of allowing assisted suicide," he added.

Professor Bregje D. Onwuteaka-Philipsen, a Dutch pro-euthanasia academic, also appeared at the forum. And Professor Paul Badham, an Anglican academic, made a Christian case for legalizing assisted suicide.

Baroness Jane Campbell, the disabled anti-euthanasia peer and Lord Carlile QC, another anti-euthanasia peer, argued against the practice.

Ozimic also noted the latest machinations at the British Medical Association.

"Earlier this month the British Medical Association (BMA) issued a strong guidance statement warning doctors against any involvement, even indirect, in assisted suicide. Yesterday the BMA’s annual representative meeting (ARM) passed a motion which points out that palliative care and other forms of patient support almost entirely eliminate requests for assisted suicide," he said.


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