- Euthanasia is the intentional killing of a patient by act or omission as part of their ‘medical treatment’ when the patient’s life is felt not to be worth living.
- Euthanasia is currently illegal in the UK and virtually all countries of the world, but there are strong pressures to make it legal.
- In September 2015, a Private Members’ Bill to legalise assisted suicide was soundly defeated in the House of Commons. Following a lengthy debate on Rob Marris MP’s Bill, MPs voted 330 to 118 against introducing assisted suicide in England and Wales.
- Rob Marris’ Bill was modelled on an earlier Bill by Lord Falconer, which ran out of time before the 2015 General Election. Previous attempts (in 2006 and 2009) to liberalise the law on assisted suicide also failed to become law.1
- A bid for assisted suicide was rejected in the Scottish Parliament in May 2015. MSPs voted 82 to 36 against the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill to allow people as young as 16 to get help to kill themselves. Holyrood had previously rejected a similar Bill in 2010 by 85 votes to 16.2
- Supporters and opponents of euthanasia alike have argued that the courts, in a small number of cases following the Bland judgment, have allowed euthanasia involving patients in a persistent vegetative state (PVS).3 This claim is contested by the Government and the British Medical Association (BMA).
- In June 2014 the UK Supreme Court dismissed an appeal to allow doctors to assist in suicides. Judges ruled 7-2 to uphold an earlier decision by the High Court, saying that it is a matter for the UK Parliament to decide.4
- The vast majority of UK doctors are opposed to legalising euthanasia, along with the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Association for Palliative Medicine and the British Geriatric Society.
The sanctity of life
Life is sacred from conception (see Sanctity of Life). Euthanasia involves the killing of human beings.
Euthanasia is intentional killing of the innocent and so contravenes the Sixth Commandment: “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). This applies even in the case of suicide.
The image of God
The fundamental prohibition on killing, and the basis for it, is set out in Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” Our significance, and so the claim to protection, derives not from our ‘quality of life’ or gifts and abilities, but from our status as being made in God’s image.
Our lives are not our own
The Bible is clear that God is our creator. Human life is not our ‘property’. We may not just ‘dispense’ with it. As Job said: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). Our lives are meant for the service of God. It is not for us to ‘take’ life, even our own.
It was for fallen humanity that God sent “his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). All men are created beings who owe worship and thanks to their creator (Romans 1:21). In that sense our lives are not our own.
Duty to care
The Bible strongly encourages mankind to care for his fellow man. We are to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). Jesus also taught that a stranger in trouble was our neighbour (Luke 10:25-37).
- The law should not affirm the belief that some lives are not worth living.
- Any change in the law would undoubtedly place pressure on vulnerable people who would feel a burden on their family or carers. This would especially affect people who are elderly, sick or disabled.5
- Assisted suicide for terminally ill adults with six months to live was legalised in the US state of Oregon in 1997. Alarmingly, only two of the people who died under the law in 2013 had been referred for psychiatric evaluation. Almost half of those who killed themselves (35 of 71) said they felt that they were a burden on their family, friends or caregivers.6
- Legalising euthanasia would have a profound effect on the relationship between doctors and their patients. Instead of only having a healing or caring role, doctors become killers once euthanasia is legalised.
- If assisted suicide or euthanasia is legalised, any ‘safeguards’ against abuse, such as limiting it to a certain category of people, will not work. It is inherently discriminatory to allow it for some people but not for others. In March 2014, just twelve years after it had legalised euthanasia, Belgium became the first country in the world to allow euthanasia for terminally ill children of all ages.7
- In 2002, the Netherlands became the first country to formally legalise voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide. The number of deaths by euthanasia reached 4,188 in 2012, accounting for 3 per cent of all deaths in the country.8 Projections suggest that under a similar law, the UK could see almost 13,000 deaths per year by euthanasia.
- More should be done to support the provision of hospice and palliative care services. According to one study, the UK is the best country in the world for end of life care.9
- Death is not the end. For those who do not know God, neither euthanasia nor assisted suicide are a ‘merciful release’.
Suffering can be treated without euthanasia
There is a clear distinction in medicine between, on the one hand, taking action with the specific intention of shortening life – euthanasia; and, on the other hand, withholding medical treatment because that treatment is of no further benefit to the patient or is burdensome to the patient.
It is also acceptable to administer pain-relieving drugs when the primary desired effect is to relieve the pain, but where there is a secondary and undesirable effect of shortening life. Such cases are said/could be considered to be examples of ‘double effect’.
- 1Assisted Suicide, House of Commons Library, Standard Note SN/HA/4857, 20 August 2014, pages 14-16
- 2BBC News Online, 14 November 2013, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-24927805 as at 15 October 2014
- 3Harris, J, ‘Euthanasia and the Value of Life’, in Keown, J (Ed.) Euthanasia Examined, Cambridge University Press, 1999, page 18: “Despite valiant attempts both by the three judges of the Court of Appeal and by the five judges in the House of Lords to pretend otherwise, their decision was in effect one permitting non-voluntary euthanasia.” John Harris is a supporter of euthanasia.
- 4The Supreme Court, Press Summary, 25 June 2014, see http://supremecourt.uk/decided-cases/docs/UKSC_2013_0235_PressSummary.pdf as at 15 October 2014
- 5Leaders of disability charities Scope and Disability Rights UK, and others, have said they are “deeply concerned” about pressure to introduce assisted suicide, see The Daily Telegraph, 5 June 2014
- 6‘Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act – 2013’, see http://public.health.oregon.gov/ProviderPartnerResources/EvaluationResearch/DeathwithDignityAct/Documents/year16.pdf as at 14 October 2014
- 7Rt.com, ‘Children’s euthanasia bill signed by Belgium king’, 5 March 2014, see http://rt.com/news/belgium-king-sign-euthanasia-bill-566/ as at 15 October 2014
- 8Mail Online, 24 September 2013, see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2430479/One-thirty-deaths-Holland-euthanasia-choosing-end-lives-cancer.html as at 14 October 2014
- 9The quality of death: Ranking end-of-life care across the world, Economist Intelligence Unit, July 2010, pages 6, 9, 11