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Saturday, 9 November 2013

To die, or not to die?

To die, or not to die?  That's a big question.  For most of us, the answer is that we wish to live for as long as possible.  However, it would appear that some of the world's legislators think differently!

At the moment, in the UK, two pro-euthanasia Bills are making their way through two different legislative bodies.  In the House of Lords, Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill had its first reading in the House of Lords earlier this year, although it is yet to be scheduled for its second reading.  In the Scottish Parliament, Margo MacDonald, MSP, is making yet another attempt to legalise euthanasia by a different name, as she presents her second End of Life Assistance Bill.

When such legislation is being considered, the proponents place a lot of weight on the circumstances of a few high-profile cases that are judged to be capable of producing great sympathy for the individuals concerned.  What is not explained, by the supporters, are the additional ramifications - or, perhaps, they have not sufficiently thought the matter through!

It was in 2002 that both The Netherlands and Belgium legalised the taking of another person's life, at that person's request and with their permission (voluntary euthanasia), provided that the person is legally competent and "... in a medically futile condition of constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated, resulting from a serious and incurable disorder caused by illness or accident". (from the Belgian legislation).  Euthanasia is also allowed in certain of the United States of America, in Canada's Quebec Province, in Albania, and in Switzerland while, in some countries, it is not legal - but a 'blind eye' is turned to it.  Assisted suicide is slightly different, but the end result is the same!

Those who oppose the legalising of euthanasia/assisted suicide may cite perfectly valid religious reasons for their position.  However, there are many who also oppose it on the basis that it could be the thin end of a wedge.  Recent news would suggest that they are correct to have such fears!

It would appear that it is not uncommon for the mentally ill to be euthanised (involuntary euthanasia).  This is already happening in both The Netherlands and Belgium with, in the case of the latter, organs being harvested from the victims. In Switzerland, the Supreme Court declared it to be a constitutional right for the mentally ill to be offered assisted suicide; while Quebec's new euthanasia legislation apparently allows the (involuntary?!) euthanasia.

Those of an earlier generation may well be hearing alarm bells ringing.  This deliberate killing of the mentally ill - and those considered not to be of any 'use' - was a policy of Hitler's Nazi administration. Aktion T4 was the name used after World War II for the 'euthanasia programme' during which physicians murdered thousands of people who were "judged incurably sick, by critical medical examination". The programme officially ran from September 1939 to August 1941, but continued, unofficially, until the end of the Nazi regime in 1945.

Could such a situation re-occur in the 21st century?  Sadly, it is not impossible.   Earlier this year, witnesses appeared in the upper house of the Belgian parliament to discuss a proposal allowing euthanasia for children.  Already, under the current law, there is an exception to allow children, of at least fifteen years of age, to be euthanised, if they are “legally emancipated” from their parents.  However, Socialist Party Senator Philippe Mahoux, one of the architects of the 2002 law, is now seeking to broaden the law to include all children of any age with a serious and incurable disease and a sound mind.

With all of the, understandable, emphasis on marriage over the past year, the euthanasia Bills have received little publicity.  However, it is at our peril that we ignore the attempts, by some, to 'play God'.  It was interesting that, when Prof Stephen Hawking - himself, previously, an opponent of euthanasia - recently declared a change of mind, British paralympic star Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson criticised him, saying that weakening the law would reinforce prejudices against disabled people.

To die, or not to die?  It's much too important a question for the answer to be left to mere mortals!

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