Legalising assisted suicide would be a retrograde step, with far-reaching consequences beyond simply allowing suffering individuals the chance to end their own life, a Times columnist has warned.
Melanie Phillips was commenting on the recent furore caused by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) over its decision to adopt a new, default position of neutral on assisted suicide, unless 60% of its members are opposed.
The RCP is a widely respected medical voice and if it chooses to go neutral on assisted suicide, such a move would carry significant weight. But, according to Phillips “the RCP is playing a dangerous, disturbing and disreputable game”.
The myth of neutrality
Indeed, the RCP’s framing of its recent poll of member’s views on assisted suicide has caused fury. Four doctors are currently involved in a legal challenge to the College over its recent survey of member’s views on assisted suicide and a fundraising campaign for the legal challenge has already raised a significant sum of money in just a few weeks. The group’s solicitor recently told BBC Radio 4’s Law in Action programme that neutrality will be understood by the public as a green light for assisted suicide.
The College previously polled its members in 2014 and asked them what position the College should adopt on assisted suicide. Only one in four wanted the College to support assisted suicide. Nearly half (44%) said the College should oppose assisted suicide. In the 2014 poll, members were also asked what they thought of assisting someone to kill themselves. A clear majority of 58% opposed any change in the law. Thanks to the way the RCP has framed its recent poll, even if a higher percentage of doctors opposed changing the law than in the 2014 poll, the College would still go neutral.
Philipps points out in her article that if the College goes neutral, it would be a “big step towards endorsing physician-assisted suicide and the required change in the law”. This, Phillips then says would be a “moral blunder”.
Slippery slope of assisted suicide
She goes on to say “the law against intentional killing is there to protect people. Cross that line and you embark on a slippery slope that is not just hypothetical”.
Philipps cites evidence from Oregon which suggests people with depression are being helped to kill themselves without their depression being diagnosed or treated. In the Netherlands, you can find reports of doctors ignoring the guidelines that regulate assisted suicide. We also know doctors have administered lethal injections to patients without their own request or consent.
The latest assisted suicide figures from Belgium and Oregon revealed that the numbers in both places had gone up again. The slippery slope argument is often dismissed by pro-assisted suicide advocates. But there is plenty of evidence that it is not hypothetical. CARE’s James Mildred wrote an article for The Economist on why the slippery slope of assisted suicide is real.
If you want to donate to the doctors’ legal challenge against the RCP, you can do so here.