Dutch assisted suicide ‘a cautionary tale’ for UK, experts tell MPs

Leading ethicists have told MPs and Peers that legalising assisted suicide in the UK could lead to an increase in violent suicides.

Former euthanasia advocate Professor Theo Boer and US ethicist Wesley Smith set out the ‘unintended consequence’ of liberalising laws on assisted suicide.

They were speaking at a webinar hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group.

‘Cautionary Tale’

Professor Boer, now a professor of health care ethics in the Netherlands, said: “The signal that is being sent to a society is that death is the solution to any form of unbearable and irremediable suffering.”

Legalising assisted suicide, he said, had resulted in a normalising effect on attitudes to suicide in general in the Netherlands, making it the “default way to die”.

The Netherlands should act as a cautionary tale to those in power in the UK Professor Theo Boer

The professor said that violent suicides had risen by more than a third in the Netherlands between 2007 and 2019, this rise had happened alongside a 150 per cent increase in people seeking assisted suicide.

In an article published shortly after his talk he warned: “The Netherlands should act as a cautionary tale to those in power in the UK.”

Burden

Wesley Smith highlighted that “all the energy” in the media and popular culture at the moment was “towards the idea of normalising ending your own life” as the “death of dignity”.

He said that most people contemplating assisted suicide did so “for existential reasons”, such as being afraid of “losing dignity” or “being burdens to their families and their loved ones” but not because of pain.

He went on to say that “people who want to die because they have cancer, or because they have a significant disability, or because they have motor neurone disease and so forth, are just as entitled to suicide prevention and their lives have just as much moral worth as anyone else’s.”

Assisted suicide defeated

SNP MP Dr Philippa Whitford observed: “We thought after winning the vote in 2015 that it would not return so quickly but it is already building up again.”

Dr Whitford, who opposed the Assisted Dying Bill, added: “I worry most about the growing increase in the sense of ‘a duty to die’ that could develop until it is routine.”

In 2015 the House of Commons voted by 330 to 118 against legalising assisted suicide.

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