A ‘caring and loving’ mother helps her ME-suffering daughter commit suicide by handing her two syringes filled with large doses of morphine. Another ‘caring and loving’ mother gave her brain-damaged son a lethal injection of heroin in order ‘to save him from an agonised existence’.
Two similar cases illustrate more than ever why assisted suicide should remain illegal. Kay Gilderdale denies attempted murder for the death of her 31-year-old daughter Lynn but admits aiding and abetting suicide. Frances Inglis denied murder and attempted murder for administering a fatal injection to her son Tom who suffered serious head injuries after falling out of an ambulance, but was found guilty and given a life sentence on 20th January 2010.
I do not in any way want to diminish the living hell that these women must have experienced as they witnessed the intense suffering of those closest to them. Nor do I wish to deny that they were the devoted parents that they profess to be. Our sympathy should go out to them. However the conflation of these two cases in the media has highlighted one of the most important arguments against legalising any form of assisted suicide.
It is asserted that Lynn Gilderdale had in the past expressed a clear desire to end her own life and that in the end her death followed a failed sucide bid. It is this sort of case that assisted suicide advocates highlight as tragedies that could have been avoided had the law permitted a properly regulated way for Miss Gilderdale to manage her own death.
However an examination of the Inglis case clearly demonstrates the dangers of taking this step. According to Ms Inglis her son was “imprisoned in a useless body, unable to communicate, unable to experience any pleasure or enjoyment in life”. Most chilling however was her statement: “I believed it would have been Tom’s choice to have been allowed to die rather than have the intervention to keep him alive.”
Pro-euthanasia advocates would say that these cases are completely different since in one case consent was given whereas in the other the mother made a unilateral decision to kill her son. However are the cases as different as they seem? As Tom Inglis was unable to communicate his wishes, surely his mother would have known best of anyone what her son would have wanted? And surely it is discriminating against those who are not able to communicate not to let them have the same chance of a peaceful release afforded to those deemed capable to make that decision? The general consensus of a ‘right to life’ would gradually be supplanted by a ‘right to death’. Unspoken standards would be drawn up over at what stage life would be deemed ‘unliveable’ as is already happening in the Netherlands. Keeping people alive with a perceived low quality of life would be considered cruel and treated by killing rather than improved pain relief and practical help.
The slide from voluntary to involuntary euthanasia would perhaps be slow but the limits of the law would progressively be chipped away. In the Netherlands euthanasia is illegal for children under the age of twelve. However in 2004 the Groningen Protocol was drawn up containing directives with criteria under with physicians can perform “active ending of life on infants” without fear of prosecution. The former health minister who campaigned for the legalisation of euthanasia in Holland has said that she regrets her decision in the face of evidence that palliative care has suffered as the more expensive end of life option. Fast forward a few years down the line and there is no knowing what the next step will be. In times of economic hardship such as at the moment could euthanasia be the solution to our growing pensions crisis? Or how about euthanasia as a way of curbing carbon emissions? Abortion is already being aggressively promoted by certain eco-warriors so why not go for the other end of life as well? In a few years time euthanasia could be the solution to all our problems.
One thing we have learned from the abortion tragedy of the last forty years is that a piece of legislation which was designed to include safeguards against the dangers of abortion on demand is now an archaic irrelevance, ignored at almost every point. Forty years down the line what would the situation be if we passed a similar piece of legislation legalising assisted suicide?
For these reasons the answers to the Gilderdale and Inglis cases must be a firm but compassionate ‘no’. The jury were right to convict Inglis of murder. We cannot endanger the vulnerable in society to suit the purposes of the few who do not want to face natural death or who do not want to see their loved ones face natural death. Instead they must be given the full love and support which they deserve; told that their life is valued and important whatever condition they are in; reassured that no life is ‘unliveable’; and most importantly of all protected against any suggestion that they are a burden on their families and society.
Written by Simon Hopkins of The ProLife Alliance, 21st January 2010