Care NOT Killing, an alliance of charities and medical experts formed to halt the Bill, believes that the proposed change in the law would put Britain on a short and slippery slope towards the legalisation of euthanasia.

Seriously ill, emotionally distraught patients would be pushed into ending their lives, partly to avoid becoming a burden on their families and carers. This threat is particularly real because of the cash crisis in the NHS and the mounting difficulties of paying for long-term care for the elderly.

Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill, due to be debated in the House of Lords on Friday, 12th May, makes provision for doctors to prescribe lethal drugs for people who are 'terminally ill'. But Care NOT Killing, which represents 32 UK organisations that promote palliative care and oppose euthanasia, says the proposed new law is a dangerous move.

CNK Chairman, Brian Iddon MP said: "Many elderly people already feel themselves to be a burden upon relatives, carers and an increasingly cost-conscious health service. This Bill will only intensify that pressure, and mean that some of the most vulnerable members of our community will feel that they have a duty to 'do the decent thing' for their families and society, by taking lethal drugs. We have had a deluge of letters from elderly people who are very frightened by this Bill."

The warning comes in a week highlighted by news of 7,000 NHS job cuts and a predicted NHS annual deficit of at least £600 million in England. It is just four weeks after a joint report by three public sector watchdogs, the Audit Commission, the Healthcare Commission and the Commission for Social Care Inspection, which said the NHS and care services treated older people 'with a lack of dignity and respect'.

A further report commissioned by health think tank the King's Fund, on 30th March, found 'serious shortcomings' in care provision and funding arrangements for elderly people and called for investment to treble by 2026.

John Wiles, Chairman of the Association for Palliative Medicine, an Alliance member organisation representing 800 Palliative Medicine Consultants, added: "The NHS is cash-strapped and palliative care is much more costly than £4 of drugs to kill a patient. The NHS applauds itself for its recent additional funding of £50 million a year for palliative care for three years; but it only provides about 37 per cent of the cost of palliative care. By contrast, the voluntary charitable sector provides three quarters of current funding, or about £315 million per annum. When patients' physical, psychosocial and spiritual needs are properly met, requests for euthanasia are extremely rare indeed. We have an excellent tradition of palliative care in this country, but a postcode lottery operates with many not getting the care they need. This has to stop."

Some European politicians and economists have been chillingly open about the economic incentives for euthanasia. Jacques Attali, the former president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, said in 1981: "As soon as he gets beyond 60-65 years of age, man lives beyond his capacity to produce, and he costs society a lot of money... euthanasia will be one of the essential instruments of our future societies."

Last October, an open letter to members of the House of Lords from nine British faith leaders representing the six major world faiths warned that if Lord Joffe's Bill was passed, "the so-called 'right to die' would inexorably become the 'duty to die' and potentially economic pressures and convenience would come to dominate decision-making".

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