The Prime Minister has issued a stark warning that any change to the law on assisted suicide would put pressure on “the frail and the vulnerable” to end their lives.
Gordon Brown’s warning comes a day before Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), will release his final guidance on assisted suicide prosecutions.
Writing in today’s edition of The Daily Telegraph Mr Brown, who has been a consistent opponent of assisted suicide, cautioned that creating a legal “right” to die would place unacceptable pressure on those with terminal illnesses or disabilities.
Mr Brown said: “Let us be clear: death as an option and an entitlement, via whatever bureaucratic processes a change in the law on assisted suicide might devise, would fundamentally change the way we think about death”.
He added: “The risk of pressures – however subtle – on the frail and the vulnerable, who may for example feel their existences burdensome to others, cannot ever be entirely excluded.”
The Prime Minister also warned that advances in palliative care in recent decades had weakened the case for liberalising the law on assisted suicide.
He said: “I believe that because of the clarification of the public interest factors now being discussed, and because of some important developments in care over recent decades, the case for a change in the law is now weaker”.
The Prime Minister also warned that allowing medical professionals to assist patients to end their lives would damage the implicit trust of the doctor-patient relationship.
Sources within the media have seen the Prime Minister’s comments as a warning to Mr Starmer not to go too far in his final guidance on prosecuting assisted suicide.
However, assisted suicide campaigner Debbie Purdy has dismissed the Prime Minister’s comments as unrepresentative of the British people’s approach to the issue.
Mrs Purdy also claimed that changing the law on assisted suicide could save lives.
She said: “I honestly believe changing the law will save lives.”
She added: “The majority of doctors and nurses will welcome that because it will give clear guidelines that they don’t have to abandon their patients at the worst moment.”
However, in January the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) warned that the interim guidelines on prosecuting assisted suicide cases could lead to an “open door” for doctors to end patients’ lives.
Responding to a public consultation on the guidelines the RCP, England’s oldest doctors’ group, said doctors should not help patients in any suicide bid.
And earlier this month one of the nation’s most respected cancer doctors warned that the current debate surrounding euthanasia has become “greatly exaggerated”, and that there is actually “very little desire” for it.
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.”
And Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, warned 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.”