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Defending life
from conception to natural death


Proposed right to die threatens vulnerable patients

31 August 2001

Proposed "right to die" threatens vulnerable patients Westminster, 31 August 2001--The establishment of a "right to die" would lead to vulnerable patients being pressured to accept assisted suicide, says the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC). SPUC were responding to this morning's High Court decision granting a full judicial review hearing to Mrs. Diane Pretty, who is seeking legal approval for assisted suicide. A coalition of concerned parties1 are seeking to intervene in the case. Paul Tully, SPUC general secretary, said: "We are disappointed and greatly concerned about today's decision. Although we always have compassion for suffering patients like Mrs Pretty, establishing a "right to die" would undermine the fundamental right to life, by creating categories of people whose lives are deemed not worth living. It would lead to elderly patients being made to feel that they should exercise this right and stop being a burden on the health system. Just because a patient's exterior dignity is affected by illness and dependency on others does not mean that their intrinsic value as a human being is abolished. Society should value all patients by giving them the full and equal protection of the law." Dr Michael Howitt-Wilson of ALERT (Against Legalised Euthanasia--Research and Teaching) commented: "Patient dignity is not recognised by telling vulnerable patients how undignified their condition is, or how they would be better off dead. So-called mercy killing is in fact rejection, rather than compassion, for the patient. Assisted suicide is a misguided attempt at dealing with the suffering of patients, whose needs can be met instead by good palliative and hospice care. We cannot allow a distorted notion of compassion to place millions of patients in danger of potentially fatal neglect.". Dr Greg Gardner of the Medical Ethics Alliance commented: "The idea of a "right to die" is contrary to the whole basis of medical ethics. If an alleged "right to die" became a precedent, medical resources could be denied to frail, vulnerable patients on the basis that they can opt to die. Trust in doctors would be further eroded. Elderly patients in Holland are becoming frightened of doctors, because a large number of deaths in that country involve active intervention to hasten death with or without the patient's consent. If conscious patients are given the right to be killed, there is nothing to stop this from being applied to unconscious patients. These cases are not so much about the 'right' of one person to be killed but of the many not to be." * The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), ALERT (Against Legalised Euthanasia--Research and Teaching) and the Medical Ethics Alliance.

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