Assisted suicide distracts from care, says professor

Calls for assisted suicide to become legal threaten to divert attention away from important issues surrounding long-term care, a social policy expert says.

Society “won’t have to bother” too much about long-term and end-of-life care if euthanasia becomes available, says Peter Beresford, Professor of Social Policy at Brunel University.

On his Guardian website blog, Prof Beresford says that end-of-life care is currently “grossly underfunded, patchy and unreliable”. If assisted suicide is on offer, he asks, “what pressure will there be for improvement”?

He applies the same argument to disability and long-term conditions. “It’s time to review our understanding of [our] own and other people’s infirmities,” he says.

“We know that good support can have a transformative effect. What’s the chance of things getting better once euthanasia is on the menu?”

Prof Beresford continues: “The ramifications for policy are likely to be far-reaching.

“What pressure will there be to spread the learning we already have about good pain control?

“What help will there be for the medical profession to get better at dealing with conditions it can’t cure, so these aren’t just seen as failures?

“How will it improve in communicating difficult news in helpful ways and having a more holistic appreciation of each of us as people, instead of seeing us still as bundles of symptoms and pathologies?”

A renewed attempt to change the law on assisted suicide is expected from Lord Joffe, whose previous attempt to do this failed in 2006.

During the 2006 debate, Professor of Palliative Medicine, Baroness Finlay of Llandaff spoke persuasively against Lord Joffe’s Bill.

She told the House of Lords: “The public need to know that 94 per cent of palliative medicine specialists in the UK oppose this Bill.

“It is we who work day in, day out to give dignity to the dying; know the pressures and fears behind the statement, ‘I wish I were dead’; and know how often time and care that enhances dignity prove everyone wrong.”

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