British doctors voice opposition to physician-assisted suicide 

assisted suicide, physician-assisted suicide

As lawmakers in the UK debate legalizing physician-assisted suicide, some doctors are taking a stand and staunchly refusing to participate in the practice if it becomes legal. 

Assisted suicide is currently illegal in the UK and attempts to legalize the practice have failed multiple times, most recently in 2015. However, Parliament is now considering a new bill, the Assisted Dying Bill 2021, which would allow terminally ill adults to receive assistance to end their lives.

In response, a group of over 1600 British medical professionals penned a letter to Health Secretary Sajid Javid expressing their deep concerns over the bill. The letter stated, “The shift from preserving life to taking life is enormous and should not be minimized. The prohibition of killing is present in almost all civilized societies due to the immeasurable worth of every human life.” 

Amid this debate, the British Medical Association dropped its opposition to assisted suicide last month and adopted a neutral stance. The motion to move to a position of neutrality was carried by 49% of representatives, with 48% against and 3% abstaining. Previously, the association followed a policy that had been in place since 2006 opposing assisted suicide. 

The association emphasized that neutrality is not an endorsement of the measure; however, some doctors aptly pointed out that some would view neutrality as tacit approval of assisted suicide. 

“This motion is actually about euthanasia. The BMA defines physician-assisted dying as assisted suicide and euthanasia,” said Dr. Gillian Wright. “We know that neutrality means tacit approval and has enormous political significance.”

READ: Massachusetts doctors: Vulnerable citizens feel ‘threatened’ by assisted suicide legislation

Assisted suicide is a slippery slope. In the letter, the medical professionals warned that the bill could pave the way for involuntary euthanasia. In Belgium, for example, euthanasia was legalized in 2002 at the patient’s request. However, reports reveal that more than 1 in 60 deaths in Belgium occurred with no consent from the patient.

“Far from one person’s decision affecting no one else, it affects us all. Some patients may never consider assisted suicide unless it was suggested to them. The cruel irony of this path is that legislation introduced with the good intention of enhancing patient choice will diminish the choices of the most vulnerable,” the letter stated. 

Catholic bishops have also continually voiced their opposition to the bill. Early last month, Bishop John Sherrington, Lead Bishop for Life Issues for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, issued an open letter calling for prayers for the defeat of the bill and for letters to lawmakers outlining the importance of “the precious time during the final stages of life.”  

In the letter, the bishop quoted Pope Francis who said, “Physician-assisted suicide is part of a ‘throwaway culture’ that offers a ‘false compassion’ and treats a human person as a problem… True compassion does not marginalize anyone, nor does it humiliate and exclude – much less considers the disappearance of a person as a good thing.” 

The Second Reading of the Assisted Dying Bill at the House of Lords took place on Friday, prompting a response from Bishop Sherrington who reiterated the Catholic Church’s continued opposition to the bill. He also applauded the over 60 speakers who voiced their strong opposition to the bill and their defense of the vulnerable and those with disabilities.

“The Catholic Church is clear that we can never assist in taking the life of another, even if they request it,” the bishop stated. “All life is sacred from conception until natural death, and we reiterate our call for investment in high-quality palliative care. Our call is one for assistance in living and not assistance in committing suicide.”

Faith leaders and medical professionals who oppose the bill have stressed the importance of making high-quality palliative care available to all at the end of their lives. The Duty of Care medical professionals noted in their letter that many people don’t consider ending their lives until it is suggested to them. Live Action News previously reported that multiple studies in well-respected medical journals have found that people seek assisted suicide because they are hopeless, afraid of being a burden, have little to no support, and are depressed — the same reasons healthy people attempt to kill themselves.

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