Legalising assisted suicide would damage the culture of caring for the vulnerable, MPs have been warned.
Speaking to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee, former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Baroness Hollins said everyone needs to know they will “be directed to the right support”, but introducing assisted suicide would change the “culture, the attitude and everything”.
The Committee is currently hearing evidence on access to palliative care, the role of medics in assisted suicide, and eligibility criteria for such services in England and Wales.
Lady Hollins said: “I am particularly concerned about the extension to people with mental illness, and to disabled people, particularly people with learning disability and autism, who are so open to suggestion”.
Conservative MP Chris Green agreed, warning that if assisted suicide was first introduced for adults deemed to be terminally ill “there would be pressure to include wider groups, including children”. He cited the position in Belgium, where children can receive help to be killed.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, a palliative medicine consultant, highlighted that “diagnostic error is quite common”, and one of her patients who considered suicide when he was given three months to live is still alive over twenty years later after his pain was alleviated.
She said: “If you take people away from clinical care to assist suicide, you decrease the number of people who are there to look after people who are distressed and work to relieve their distress.”
Last year, the House of Lords defeated Lord Forsyth’s amendment to the Health and Care Bill that sought to allow terminally ill adults to get help from doctors to kill themselves.
This was the twelfth time since 1997 that proposals for assisted suicide related laws have not been passed by UK parliamentarians.
Attempts to legalise assisted suicide are currently under way in Scotland, Jersey and the Isle of Man.