Physician-assisted Euthanasia - ie the intentional killing of a patient by act or omission as part of their 'medical treatment' when a patient's life is not felt to be worth living - is illegal in the UK and in virtually all countries of the world. There is pressure from many quarters to legalise it. We understand that the issue will come before the House of Lords on 10th October 2005 in relation to the Report of the Select Committee on the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill.
We believe in the sanctity of life granted to us by our Maker. He alone gives life and takes it away. A doctor's or nurse's duty is to preserve not destroy life. We entered into medicine driven by the motivation to serve the ill and suffering not to kill or assist them in dying. In their submission to the Select Committee, the General Medical Council wrote, "a change in the law to allow physician-assisted dying would have profound implications for the role and responsibilities of doctors and their relationships with patients."
'Right to life' is the cornerstone of Human Rights law. Everyone's right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law. With capital punishment abolished even this form of depriving ones life is spared.
The Right to Life under Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Right (ECHR) precludes the legality of euthanasia and PAS. The principle is fraught with problems:
Doctors oppose it most individuals dread it. As an early 19th century German Physician stated: "It is not up to [the doctor] whether life is happy or unhappy, worthwhile or not, and should he incorporate these perspectives into his trade the doctor could well become the most dangerous person in the state." Christoph William Hufeland, (1806)
Why then are we exposed to relentless pressures to create a law to assist people in dying? Why are doctors expected to assist in suicide?
Requests for euthanasia are often cry for help. Indeed almost half of the patients in Oregon who requested PAS retracted their request after initiation of treatment such as, pain control, anti-depressant medication or referral to a hospice.
Experience from Holland, where Euthanasia has been legal since 1984, indicates that with the passage of time, voluntary euthanasia leads to involuntary euthanasia. This is now a cause of serious problems there:
Since the legalisation of assisted suicide in Oregon the number of people who requested assisted suicide because they felt a burden to their families or carers (12% in 1998 raised to 63% in 2000). Inevitably, there will be pressure (real or imagined) on vulnerable people - the elderly, lonely, sick, distressed or depressed - to request early death. They will feel a burden on the family or state. The right to die has now become a duty to die.
We have excellent palliative care services; opposition to patient assisted euthanasia was 100% among doctors working Palliative Care Medicine. Two weeks ago, the Editor of the British Medical Journal asked, "Are you for, against, or-like the BMA 'neutral?'" Most indicated that legalising assisted suicide would destroy trust in doctors. Summarising the responses, Birte Twisselmann, Assistant Editor (Web) writes that "the overwhelming response from our readers remains that physician assisted suicide is not what they became doctors to do." We do not want euthanasia to be legalised - it is not a doctor's role to kill or assist in killing; it must remain one of healing and pain-relief.
We urge your Lordship's support for the vast majority of doctors and the general public who oppose any form of killing.
With the very best wishes,
Dr Shuja Shafi MBBS, FRCPath
Chairman, Health & Medical Committee,
The Muslim Council of Britain