One of the nation’s most respected cancer doctors has warned that the current debate surrounding euthanasia has become “greatly exaggerated”, and that there is actually “very little desire” for it.
Professor Karol Sikora’s comments, written in the Daily Mail, come in the wake of a series of high profile stories about assisted suicide in the media.
Prof Sikora said: “In all my 37 years as a cancer doctor, I have never had a patient who asked for euthanasia. In my line of work, it is not an issue. People don’t want to die. And, usually, we can make patients comfortable, thanks to modern drugs.”
The renowned oncologist also said that “Britain gave the world palliative care” and noted that the hospice movement was pioneered by Dame Cicely Saunders who is regarded as the founder of the palliative care movement.
He added: “In order to see how deeply ingrained is the desire to live, you have only to go into the average old people’s home and look around.”
Professor Sikora also warned that the elderly are often viewed as a burden in today’s society.
He said: “The truth is that the elderly have become an inconvenience. From here, it’s all too easy to see how we make that short leap from the old being a problem which needs a solution – and that solution is now perceived as assisted suicide.”
The professor wrote shortly after the publication of opinion polls on assisted suicide commissioned by the BBC and The Daily Telegraph.
These appeared to indicate that most respondents were in favour of weakening the UK’s assisted suicide laws.
And earlier this week author Sir Terry Pratchett gave a controversial BBC lecture in which he called for the creation of assisted suicide tribunals.
The pro-euthanasia campaigner, who has Alzheimer’s, suggested doctors should help a person to die if the individual is deemed by a tribunal to be of sound mind at the time of the decision.
But Prof Sikora said: “The idea really breaks down once you begin talking of death panels. Who wants their last moments divined by committee? Who would appoint such a panel? What sort of people would sit on them? Who would pay? How would they agree?”
The professor’s warnings were echoed by Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York.
Speaking earlier this week the Archbishop said that we must ignore celebrity campaigns for assisted suicide, and instead listen to the voices of disabled people and the silent majority.
The Archbishop said: “I would rather listen to the voices of disabled people than to the voices of celebrities or the voices of 1,000 people in an opinion poll.”
Last December disabled groups spoke out against any weakening of the assisted suicide laws.
A coalition including the Royal Association for Disabled People, the UK Disabled People’s Council and the National Centre for Disabled Living expressed concern at any weakening of the law.
Last year the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for England and Wales, Keir Starmer QC, issued draft guidelines to explain the circumstances under which he is likely to prosecute a case of assisted suicide.
The DPP’s final guidance for England and Wales will be published in Spring 2010.