Michael Cook 1 Jun 2012
The president of the Royal College of General Practitioners in the UK, Iona Heath, has taken a strong stand against the legalisation of assisted suicide. In an eloquent article in the BMJ she argues that campaigns in support of assisted dying rely on an excessively rosy view of society.
First of all, she feels that it will be impossible to draft a law which protects the vulnerable. "Most of the discussion of and support for assisted dying revolves around exceptional individuals who are intelligent, articulate, and facing the prospect of intolerable suffering and who clearly understand their situation and predicament. Yet legislation has to protect everyone, including those who struggle to express or even fully understand what is happening to them. It seems to me to be impossible to ensure that an apparently voluntary request for assisted dying is not in some small way coerced."
Second, supporters assume that governments will be generally benign. This is naÃ¯ve, she says. "A malign government coming into power with legislation supporting assisted dying already in place is a deeply disturbing prospect."
Third, assisted dying is a technical fix to an existential problem. "One of the huge challenges of human life is to find ways of living a meaningful life within the limits of a finite lifespan that will always involve loss of love and the inevitability of grief. Doctors have a regrettable tendency to ignore this reality and to persist in active and invasive treatment beyond the point at which it has become futile and even cruel." ~ BMJ, May 29