Legalising assisted suicide would cross an “essential line in the sand” and negatively affect wider society by creating a culture of death, columnists have warned.
The comments follow the case that hit the headlines last week of Jeffrey Spector, a British man who went to Dignitas in Switzerland to get help to kill himself, six years after being diagnosed with an inoperable tumour he feared would paralyse him from the neck down.
Writing in the Telegraph, a former editor of the paper Charles Moore said that it is “worth bearing in mind” that there are “many thousands of people who can and do bear not only the thought but also the reality of quadriplegia”.
“On the whole, we think they are brave. We think, indeed, that they show dignity”, he said.
He also pointed out that assisted suicide does not just affect the person who dies.
It creates problems “for the wider society”, he explained, and “undermines the motive that sustains all medicine”.
“If it becomes the job of the National Health Service not only to assist life but to end it, what will that do to the minds of doctors and nurses?
“Come to that, how will it affect the minds of all those patients (the great majority) who do not want to be killed?” he posed.
“In a state-run service like ours in which one person’s need is always weighed up against another’s in order to apportion spending, it would not be long before those refusing to drink the lethal cocktail could be represented as money-wasting bed-blockers.”
Columnist Melanie Phillips criticised attempts in Parliament to legalise assisted suicide for the terminally ill in England and Wales.
“If assisted suicide is permitted for the terminally ill, it will inevitably be argued, why not for those with chronic or progressive conditions? And if for them, why not for disabled people?
“This slide is already on display in Britain. Terminal illness is defined as an incurable disease that will cause death within a relatively short time.
“Yet this didn’t apply to those whose plight has been used to try to get the law changed — people such as Tony Nicklinson, who suffered from locked-in syndrome, Dr Anne Turner, who had an incurable degenerative disease, or Jeffrey Spector.
“The law against actions intended to end someone else’s life draws an essential line in the sand. The slide into the moral quicksands is inevitable once you cross it”, she warned.
Agnes Fletcher, the Director of think-tank Living and Dying Well, said in the Daily Express: “As Mr Spector demonstrates, some people want to die because they fear living with severe disability.
“We may never change their minds and they are entitled to their feelings but there are many unheard voices of people already living the lives that Mr Spector feared.”
Assisted suicide is illegal in the UK. In the Westminster Parliament, Lord Falconer has on two occasions tried to legalise the practice, and last week Holyrood rejected a Bill to introduce the practice in Scotland.