Paul Lamb, 63, has announced a new challenge to the Suicide Act's compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights. Mr Lamb, who was severely injured in a car accident in 1990 'and has no function below his neck apart from limited movement in his right hand', joined the case of Tony Nicklinson at the Supreme Court, and would have intervened in the case of Noel Conway had the Supreme Court heard it. (Care Not Killing intervened successfully in both cases.) In the initial step of a letter to the Justice Secretary, Mr Lamb argues that the prohibition on assisting suicide is incompatible with Article 8 (Right to respect for private and family life) and Article 14 (Prohibition of discrimination). CNK agrees with the Court of Appeal in Conway:
'It is legitimate in this area for the legislature to seek to lay down clear and defensible standards in order to provide guidance for society, to avoid distressing and difficult disputes at the end of life and to avoid creating a slippery slope leading to incremental expansion over time of the categories of people to whom similar assistance for suicide might have to [be] provided.'
CNK will consider intervening again if this case comes back to court.
As you know, following a hard fought and deeply controversial consultation of fellows and members, the Royal College of Physicians has supplanted its stance of opposition to assisted suicide with neutrality, despite opposition remaining the most favoured stance, and neutrality the least. A specialty by specialty breakdown published since has shed yet more light on the impropriety of the move. The specialties best represented in the responses were among those closest to the care of dying people - geriatric, palliative and respiratory medicine - and these all showed a strong preference for continued opposition and clear majorities for personal opposition.
Compared with a similar survey four years ago, opposition has if any strengthened among palliative care doctors, with 80.9% wanting the College to remain opposed and 84.3% expressing personal opposition. There was also a clear overall indication that members and fellows feel that assisted suicide is incompatible with their practice of medicine, with 55.1% of all respondents saying they would not participate actively if it were legal including a majority of respondents in a majority of specialties; 84.4% of palliative medicine respondents said they wouldn't.
CNK provided practical support to a group of College fellows and members who were making the case against medical bodies going neutral as part of our broader work on the College's consultation. We expect the Royal College of General Practitioners and the British Medical Association to come under pressure to change their opposition to assisted suicide to a position of neutrality.
A group of MPs have tabled a Parliamentary motion known as an Early Day Motion (EDM) which ultimately 'calls on the Royal College to reconsider their position and reinstate their opposition.' MPs can continue to add their names in support - consider asking your MP to add theirs, and take the opportunity to ask them about their stance on assisted suicide. Please use our website as a resource to ensure they know some of the problems seen where the law has changed.
Campaigners for assisted suicide in Scotland are becoming better organised and more assertive, with emotive new adverts launched this spring and heavy lobbying of MSPs. CNK was involved in organising a joint letter in The Sunday Times signed by MSPs from across the political spectrum, in which they ask:
'Have we really become a society that says the best answer we can provide to those suffering in end-of-life situations is to help them kill themselves? Is that really all we can offer?'
'We think that in Scotland today we are better than that.'
John Mason MSP has lodged a motion (Ref: S5M - 16772) noting concerns 'that it would be impossible to put adequate safeguards in place, and... that the abuse of vulnerable people would probably take place.' Contact your MSPs, asking them to add their names to the motion and to oppose any attempts to legalise assisted suicide at Holyrood. Do please use our website as a resource to ensure they know some of the problems seen where the law has changed.
Yet another opinion poll has been published claiming high levels of public support for assisted suicide, garnering the usual headlines. We have written before about the problems with polling on this issue, and we know that public opinion can shift significantly when the arguments are put. Following this last publication, we have published a critique of the question. What are respondents being asked to sign up to, and how much is it likely that they know or understand in forming the single answer that gives such a marketable statistic? It's a house of cards.
Perhaps the most fundamental aim of our campaign is to challenge public understanding - or misunderstanding - of assisted suicide, which is often presented as simple and sympathetic. Try to bear in mind one or two of the issues we raise with the premise underlying much-lauded polling, and challenge polling wherever you can - perhaps by writing letters to the press. Make people think again, and help to undermine the counsel of despair.
The threats to legal protections for vulnerable people are many and varied at this time, and our need has never been so great (while our principal opponents have a combined budget 40 times our own).
We remain enormously grateful to all those who have given, who continue to give on a regular basis and who support us in so many other ways.