We look back over the key issues of 2013, and consider the challenges we will face in what could be a landmark year.
The late Tony Nicklinson's case, maintained by his wife Jane, was taken up by quadriplegic Leeds man Paul Lamb ahead of their and 'Martin's' appeals to the Court of Appeal in May. The appeals were rejected, excepting a concession to 'Martin' regarding prosecutorial guidelines on assisted suicide, and the cases went to the Supreme Court in December, when the Nicklinson/Lamb appeal's focus changed from euthanasia to assisted suicide. A ruling by the nine justices is expected by the Spring of 2014.
In the same week that the Court of Appeal heard the Nicklinson/Lamb and 'Martin' cases, Lord Falconer introduced a bill into the House of Lords to permit assisted suicide for the terminally ill (having been defeated in a previous attempt 194-141 in 2009). Not considered to be much different from Lord Joffe's (defeated 148-100 in 2006), the bill is based on Oregon's law and has been informed by Lord Falconer's much-criticised Commission on Assisted Dying.
Reports suggest that the bill will be retabled in the 2014/5 session, having come so low down in the 2013/4 list of Private Members' Bills that is has not received a second reading. High level analysis has condemned the bill for the risk it poses to public safety, constituting a 'blank cheque', and Lord Falconer has conceded that his bill effectively places doctors above the law. The bill's return will require concerted action to ward off a substantial threat to vulnerable people and the medical profession itself.
CNK has contributed to media discussion and public debates surrounding the issue, and will be at the forefront of efforts to see a resurrected bill defeated in 2014.
Independent MSP Margo MacDonald launched a bill to permit assisted suicide for Scots on 14 November 2013. This is despite the fact that (1) 64% of individuals and 62% of organisations responding to her own consultation on the issue in 2012 rejected a change in the law and (2) her previous attempt was defeated in Holyrood by a massive 85-16 in 2010, not to mention the fact that 87% of all who made written submissions to the scrutinising committee for that bill were opposed to it.
CNK's Campaign Officers and associates in Scotland have been meeting with Parliamentarians, engaging with the media and addressing different groups on the issue.
Around the world
The launch of Margo Macdonald's bill coincided with the launch in Brussels of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Europe, a nascent body bringing together campaigners from across Europe. The launch included a highly charged debate (visit EPC Europe's twitter feed for key points), and the Coalition has great ambitions.
The world of euthanasia and assisted suicide which comedian and actor Liz Carr toured for her 'euthanasia road trip', broadcast in February on the BBC World Service, has changed a great deal since then. In Belgium, where figures last year showed a 25% annual rise, we have seen the law's extension to deafblind people, transgender people and, soon, children of any age. France's President Hollande is set to bring in an assisted suicide bill, despite popular opposition, and in the US, Vermont brought in a so-called 'no-rules' law in the same vein as Oregon and Washington.
There have been notable victories, though. Courts in Ireland and Canada have rejected legal bids endangering those at the end of life, while bills in Tasmania and New Zealand were defeated and withdrawn.
CNK supported and was present for the launch of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Europe, as a founder member.
Australia's 'Dr Death' proudly brought his workshop back to the West End in June (Covent Garden, to be precise). On public record as supporting suicide for 'the depressed, the elderly bereaved, (and) the troubled teen', he gave advice on the sourcing, supply and use of barbiturates, nitrogen and other means that people could use to kill themselves.
CNK appealed for action by the Police and Home Office - whereupon Nitschke was detained at Gatwick Airport for a number of hours on his arrival to the UK - and staged a demonstration outside the workshop in Covent Garden, distributing information about Nitschke to attendees and the general public, and speaking to the media.
The RCGP announced in May 2013 (at the behest of outgoing Council Chair Clare Gerada) that a consultation among member GPs would run until 9 October, 'with a debate by the RCGP's governing Council expected in early 2014', to determine whether members wished to change the College's position on assisted suicide and euthanasia from 'opposed' to 'neutral'. The RCGP's current strong opposition to a change in the law, adopted in 2005, was restated in 2011: 'nothing has occurred since 2005 to alter or change the ethical issues around assisted dying'. GPs are key to end of life care for many patients, and the College's stance must be maintained.
Almost all of the medical Royal Colleges are opposed to these practices, along with the British Medical Association (who reaffirmed their opposition in 2012) and the World Medical Association (who reaffirmed their opposition in 2013), and in line with the majority of individual healthcare professionals (the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine reported in September that more than two thirds of their readers oppose physician assisted suicide).
CNK encouraged RCGP members to engage with the consultation, of which many were unaware, outlining the importance of maintaining the current stance.
Liverpool Care Pathway
The Neuberger Review established by the Government reported in July 2013, and a new Leadership Alliance (LACDP) has been established to respond to the Review's conclusions. The LACDP is currently inviting feedback to an engagement document, with responses due by 31 January 2014.
CNK, having contributed to ministerial talks in November 2012, issued a concise response to the Neuberger Review. We also issued a briefing to MPs ahead of a Parliamentary debate on the subject in January.
You, and you, and you
A number of moving stories from those whose own experiences contradict the mantras of euthanasia and assisted suicide advocates emerged this year. These include Springbok hero Joost van der Westhuizen who said of his Motor Neurone Disease that 'It's only when you go through what I am going through that you understand that life is generous', and journalist Kathy Gyngell who described how redoubled care efforts overcame her terminally ill husband's despair - and afforded him a peaceful death. This year also saw the passing of Alison Davis, whose incredible life story - told more than twenty years ago that her life would soon end, she overcame the will to die with the support of friends - will continue to serve as a warning against giving up on those with serious conditions.
DJ Bram Harrison, who has locked-in syndrome, has said 'I've definitely not got the same view as Tony Nicklinson. I don't want people to think that locked-in syndrome is unbearable. I enjoy my rather limited life.' Have you or a loved one, like Bram, felt that campaigns for assisted suicide or euthanasia have caused those around you to doubt your quality of life? Have you or a loved one, like Joost, found that campaigners and the media do not allow for quality of life in the face of certain conditions? Have you or a loved one, like Alison, overcome a wish to die when death looked to be imminent? Or have you or a loved one, like Kathy, overcome despair when faced with a terminal illness with the care and support the UK is capable of? Let us know - we want your stories.
The work we have done this past year would have been impossible without your support, and 2014 is set to require yet more of us. Please consider donating towards our work.