Care Not Killing:

A Compassionate Response to the Terminally Ill

Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill would put Britain on a short and slippery slope towards the legalisation of euthanasia. A more accurate name would be the Legalised Killing Bill.

If the Joffe Bill were ever to become law, seriously ill, emotionally distraught patients would come under immediate and intense pressure to end their lives, partly to spare themselves further suffering, but mainly to avoid becoming a burden on their families and their carers.

In a rapidly ageing society with mounting financial pressure on the health service, it does not take a great deal of imagination to see that the Joffe Bill would legalise euthanasia in all but name. Further changes in the law, to legalise first voluntary, then involuntary euthanasia for the terminally ill, would be likely.

The Bill is barbaric and must be resisted at all costs. It would legalise assisted suicide whereby a doctor would be allowed to prescribe a lethal drug to a patient, who would then be allowed to take the drug and end his life. The only difference between assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia is that under the latter, the doctor is allowed to administer the lethal drug to the patient. In assisted suicide the doctor is allowed to put the lethal pill in the patients hand; in other the doctor is allowed to put it on the patient's tongue. This is a distinction without a difference.

This case was put well by the neurologist Lord Walton of Detchant, who chaired the 1994 Lords Select Committee on euthanasia. He said: “We concluded that it was virtually impossible to ensure that all acts of euthanasia were truly voluntary and that any liberalisation of the law in the United Kingdom could not be abused. We were also concerned that vulnerable people – the elderly, lonely, sick or distressed – would feel pressure, whether real or imagined, to request early death.”

The second reading debate on the Joffe Bill takes place on 12th May in the House of Lords. It is unlikely to become law this year unless the Government, which is ostensibly neutral on this free vote issue, makes time. However, unless the Bill is strongly opposed, a further attempt to change the law next year, with more chance of success, may be made through a Private Member's Bill in the Commons.

There are a host of reasons for opposing the Joffe Bill. These are briefly set out here. A fuller account of the pernicious nature of this Bill is provided in the Care NOT Killing House of Lords Briefing Paper and on the CNK website.

  • If terminally ill patients are properly cared for, very few request assisted suicide or euthanasia. Our priority should be a comprehensive system of palliative care, providing the best and most modern forms of symptom relief, to all who need it.
  • Euthanasia cannot be controlled. Doctors often have to step in and finish the job in cases of assisted suicide. In the Netherlands, where voluntary euthanasia has been legally sanctioned for 20 years, one third of euthanasia deaths (more than 1,000 a year) are involuntary. In 2005, the killing of severely disabled children was sanctioned. Ultimately, children would almost certainly be brought within the scope of the Joffe Bill.
  • The vast majority of UK doctors are opposed to euthanasia. Legalising it would shatter the profession, triggering mass resignations among doctors and nurses, many of whom have strong objections to the practice.
  • Modern drugs and skilled palliative care doctors can provide effective pain relief for the vast majority of terminally ill patients.
  • Reputable medical bodies are opposed to euthanasia. Opponents include the Association for Palliative Medicine of Great Britain and Ireland, representing over 800 UK specialists; the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Anaesthetists; the Royal College of Nursing; and the British Geriatric Society.
  • Euthanasia and assisted suicide are outlawed by the Hippocratic Oath and are contrary to the World Medical Association's Declaration of Marbella, the Declaration of Geneva, and the International Code of Medical Ethics.
  • The so-called 'safeguards' in the Bill cannot stop abuses; and advocates for the bill, including Lord Joffe himself, have made it clear that this Bill is only the first step.
  • Hard cases make bad law. The fact that a tiny number of determined people, such as Diane Pretty, demand assisted suicide or euthanasia is not a reason for legalising the practice and running the serious risk that hundreds of guilt-ridden and depressed dying people will feel it their duty to hasten their end. We are aware of many cases where people have sought euthanasia but then changed their minds when proper pain relief and care was provided.
  • Opinion polls showing public support for euthanasia are unreliable. Most polls are based on simple yes/no answers and are not based on detailed understanding of the issues involved or the attendant risks of abuse. All too few people are aware of the contribution that modern palliative care can make to alleviating the suffering of the terminally ill.


Notes to Editors:

Care NOT Killing is a new UK-based alliance bringing together human rights groups, healthcare groups, palliative care groups, faith groups and concerned individuals.

Care NOT Killing has three key aims:

  • To promote more and better palliative care
  • To ensure that existing laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide are not weakened or repealed during the lifetime of the current Parliament
  • To inform public opinion further against any weakening of the law

Care NOT Killing seeks to attract the broadest support among health care professionals, allied health services and others who are opposed to euthanasia. It is campaigning on the basis of powerful arguments underpinned by the latest, well-researched and credible evidence.

Key groups that have already signed up to join Care NOT Killing include: The Association for Palliative Medicine, the British Council of Disabled People, RADAR, the Christian Medical Fellowship, the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, the Church of England and the Medical Ethics Alliance. So far 32 organisations have joined the alliance.