We need to remember the lessons on abortion and conscience before we legalise assisted suicide

Catholic Herald

Francis  Phillips

Cases such as Dr. Chazan’s should make us think twice

On holiday last week I got into conversation with an atheist friend. The subject of abortion came up and whether a doctor or nurse has a right in conscience to refuse to participate in such a “procedure.” I cited the recent case of a prominent Polish Catholic doctor who had refused to perform an abortion. My atheist friend was annoyed. “What do you mean, he refused?” he said. “If it’s the law he has to comply with it.” By way of bolstering his argument he added, “Don’t doctors know that performing abortions is just part of their job?”

I countered this by saying that saving life and healing the sick was intrinsic to practising medicine; performing abortions wasn’t; indeed, the law of 1967 permitting it had run counter to all traditional notions of medicine from the Hippocratic Oath onwards. I added that I had read that many new medical graduates are now refusing to do abortions – not for religious reasons but because it wasn’t what they thought doctoring should be about. I added that this made medicine quite different from e.g. conscientious objection in war: being prepared to kill the enemy was intrinsic to soldiering; if you were a pacifist you would know this, so you would refuse to join up on conscientious grounds. . . [Full text]

BMA reiterates opposition to assisted dying

The BMA has reiterated its firm opposition to legalising assisted dying in the face of renewed calls for a change in the law.

An editorial in the BMJ today calls for the Assisted Dying Bill championed by Lord Falconer to become law.

BMJ editor-in-chief Fiona Godlee, UK editor Tony Delamothe and patient editor Rosamund Snow argue that people should be able to exercise choice over their lives, which should include how and when they die.

They write: ‘Ultimately, however, this is a matter for Parliament, not doctors, to decide. Let us hope that our timid lawmakers will rise to the challenge.’

The BMJ is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the BMA but has editorial independence.

BMA council chair Mark Porter acknowledged there were strongly held views within the medical profession on both sides of the assisted-dying debate.

But he insisted: ‘The BMA remains firmly opposed to legalising assisted dying. This issue has been regularly debated at the BMA’s policy-forming annual conference and recent calls for a change in the law have persistently been rejected.’ . . . [Full text]

British government asserts that legalization of assisted suicide must be decided by parliament, not by government policy

In response to a question about the recommendation of a private commission chaired by Lord Falconer, the British Secretary of State for Justice has stated that  assisted suicide should not be legalized by policy, but by a decision of Parliament enacted in legislation. [Hansard]


United Kingdom report recommends compulsory referral for assisted suicide

A report produced by a privately established and funded Commission on Assisted Dying has recommended that assisted suicide be legalized in the United Kingdom for any competent person over 18 years old who is terminally ill and expected to live less than 12 months.  It also recommends that physicians who refuse to assist with suicide for reasons of conscience be compelled to refer patients to colleagues who will do so [P. 311, Report]. The eleven members of the Commission included Lord Falconer, a lawyer and former solicitor general, who acted as Chair.  The validity of the Commission has been challenged from the outset, and a number of groups, including the British Medical Association, refused to take part, though about 1,300 sources gave evidence. [BBC]