Earlier this week the World Medical Association (WMA) reaffirmed its opposition to Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. In its revised Declaration on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, the WMA reiterated its strong commitment to “the principles of medical ethics” and pointed out that “utmost respect has to be maintained for human life.”
The WMA’s continued opposition encourages and gives hope to those of us who are fighting to protect the aged, the sick and the vulnerable by keeping euthanasia out of the UK. Maintaining the respect and value of all human life has been at the centre of Life’s work from the very beginning and we applaud the WMA for their continued stance on this issue.
It stands in stark contrast to The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) which earlier this year moved their stance from opposition to assisted suicide to adopting a neutral stance on this incredibly key and important issue. In a poll of its members to see whether they wanted a change in the RCP’s stance on assisted suicide; 43.4% of medics wanted the RCP to stay opposed to assisted suicide, 31.6% wanted the RCP to supported assisted suicide and 25% wanted the college to adopt a neutral stance. Despite the majority of members wanting the RCP to oppose a change in the law to support of assisted suicide, the RCP shifted to the neutral position. Its excuse was that before the poll it had stated that the College would move to a neutral stance unless 60% of medics either opposed or supported Euthanasia. The poll was deemed to be a ‘sham poll’ by medics who say that the RCP framed the survey in order to shift its position. Dr Gordon Macdonald, Chief Executive of Care Not Killing, stated “The position is absurd … Yet again doctors have shown they do not support changing the law on assisted suicide,” Medics denounced the College’s new stance saying “sick and vulnerable people are at risk as a result of the College’s neutrality on assisted suicide. The profession has not moved on this issue, so neither should the College.”
Campaigners for assisted suicide may see the RCP’s new neutral stance as a shift in medical opinion and a step towards the legalisation of assisted suicide. As Professor Raymond Tallis once wrote “I believe that we shall bring these bodies round to an appropriate stance of neutrality and that, with this obstacle out of the way, parliament may indeed come to support legislation in favour of assisted dying.”
This is a major worry and concern. As we have already seen from other countries that have legalised assisted suicide or euthanasia, there emerges over time a clear lack of substantial palliative care. As Professor Mark Foreman states “Where euthanasia is an accepted medical solution to patients’ pain and suffering, there is little incentive to develop programs which provide modern effective pain control for patients” . The fear is that if assisted suicide is legalised in this country then there will inevitably be a decreasing interest in palliative care and care of the elderly as Dr John Buchanan put it, “A risk of the denial of the right to palliative care may arise for those who do not wish to request euthanasia. Indeed, when death is seen as a treatment, then medicine will allocate more and more resources to develop the technological advances to improve this treatment.”
I find this a frightening notion to absorb. I wish to continue to live in a society which has its emphasis on how it can help me live and live peacefully up until the moment I die. Rather than focus solely on ‘helping’ me die. Life therefore, strongly urges The Royal College of Physicians to follow the example of the WMA and return to its policy of opposition to assisted suicide. Indeed we thank the World Medical Association for having the courage and conviction to maintain its opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia and encourage all other medical bodies to follow suit.