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May 12, 2006

The Joffe Kill the Sick Bill

Here is Polly Toynbee with some entirely fatuous twaddle about the right to an easy death atthe time of your choosing.

Here is a Doctor writing on the same subject:

I have looked after more terminally ill patients than I care to think about and, as I get older, it gets more and more difficult. I have never killed a patient. I have never been asked to kill a patient. I have never done anything to a patient with the intention of accelerating death.

As you might guess, the opinion of the professional in the field is rather different from Polly’s. Humourous, too:

Crippen:  Good morning, Mrs Davies, and how are you today?

Mrs Davies: Not at all well, I’m afraid, Doctor. Would you mind killing me?

Crippen: Certainly, Mrs Davies. I have a slot free at 2.30 pm this afternoon. Would you like to be despatched here in the health centre or at home?

Mrs Davies: The health centre would be fine, doctor.

Crippen: Excellent! See you this afternoon.

As ever, RTWT.

Update: Bill delayed for 6 months and likely to return next session. A couple of quotes that sum up my view (which is in fact a little more sophisticated than Alex purports in the comments):

Lord Carey of Clifton, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said: "If introduced, assisted suicide might be treated as casually as abortion is today, after a few years."

There was also strong opposition from the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who said the Bill sent out a message that "certain kinds of life are not worth living".

Dr Williams told peers that if the proposals became law "we would also jeopardise the security of the vulnerable by radically changing the relationship between patient and physician".

Lord Carlile, QC, the Liberal Democrat peer who tabled the amendment for a six-month delay, branded the Bill "morally indefensible". He said he did not want Britain to follow the Netherlands, which he said was considering extending euthanasia to "babies with learning difficulties".

It’s the beginning of a slippery slope and as I don’t like what is at the bottom of it then obviously I oppose us starting down it.

May 12, 2006 in Health Care | Permalink


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One doctor and one journalist? I guess many doctors could tell stories of finishing off a patient. That's a guess. If I quote one doctor, will my view become completely representative of professional opinion?

Posted by: David | May 12, 2006 5:34:41 PM

I know this flies in the face of your heart-felt preference for anecdotal over actual evidence, but how about listening to the views of the body that actually represents all doctors? In fact, there's a very wide range of views on this amongst doctors, which is why

"In June 2005, the BMA changed its policy on assisted dying from one of opposition to one of neutrality. The revised policy is:

"That this Meeting believes that the question of the criminal law in relation to assisted dying is primarily a matter for society and for Parliament. The BMA should not oppose legislation which alters the criminal law but should press for robust safeguards both for patients and for doctors who do not wish to be involved in such procedures.""


Posted by: Jim | May 12, 2006 6:03:18 PM

I suppose it's terribly eurodhimmifascistosexual to mention a fact, but Joffe's bill suggests that doctors could provide drugs to be self-administered to persons who ask for them, who are of sound mind, who are expected to die within six months, who are incurable and in intolerable pain, after second opinion.

It's time to take a more forensic view of Worstall, IMHO. Just a thin imitation of a Malkin/Fred Phelps god'n'guns mob bunny.

Tim adds: I’ve written huge amounts about euthanasia and the slippery slope argument before. Surely I don’t need to repeat all those thousands of words each and every time?

Posted by: Alex | May 13, 2006 12:38:48 AM


I'm sure the streets of Cascais have emptied in the face of your wrath.

Posted by: Martin | May 13, 2006 6:08:49 AM

Nobody is being asked to decide that "certain kinds of life are not worth living" other than those who are living and suffering those lives, surely they should be free to decide.

Tim adds: Nice sentiments but....exactly the same would apply to the consumption of drugs. Why shouldn’t the individual decide? Doesn’t happen because of the external effects.

Slightly strange, I know, as I’m usually on theother side of this argument, that individuals should indeed be free to do as they wish and damn the consequences for the wider society.

Posted by: Doc Bud | May 13, 2006 2:28:39 PM

It absolutely doesn't restrict assisted dying to patients of sound mind. It restricts it to patients who have capacity. There's a huge difference.

Posted by: Tom | May 13, 2006 2:39:09 PM

I've seen the effects of assisting death on close relatives who are medics. Medics don't do this casually, you know. The decision eats at them both before and after the act, but they do it anyway with conscience and compassion because their patient's suffering is worse than their own at having to end it.

I hope that if the crunch ever came that I were the only one in a position to end atrocious suffering at the sufferer's behest, I would also have the courage to carry the act on my conscience and record and answer for it before the assorted temporal and non-temporal tribunals I may face.

Posted by: auntymarianne | May 14, 2006 8:16:49 AM

"Joffe's bill suggests that doctors could provide drugs to be self-administered to persons who ask for them, who are of sound mind, who are expected to die within six months, who are incurable and in intolerable pain, after second opinion."Alex

Well Alex, there are a few problems there:

How sound of mind? Depressed -30% of the terminally ill have treatable depression;

Expected to die in six months? The margins of error for prognostic accuracy, even in those with with advanced disease are woefully inaccurate (and if you don't believe me see the systematic review produced by Sen Gupta and Higginson ("Changing Gear" produced by the National Council for Hospices and Palliative care) Most generalists haven't got a clue about prognosticating.

Intolerable pain - is that before or after seeing a palliative physician or pain specialist? The fact is that most termninally ill patients (especially with non-malignant disease don't get to see a palliative physicians - one third of consultant posts are unfilled, provision is woefully inadequate and relies on charities unlike most other areas of medicine)

This second opinion - would any old doctor do or would it have to be a specialist in palliative medicine? (see above)

You see, this is an ill thought out bill. Even given that it is ill conceived, it's wrong because it gives one sector of society the right to kill another, particularly vulnerable sector of society.

Oh, and if you want to know why I feel strongly, I'm a consultant palliative physician and I see more people die peaceful, natural deaths in a week than you will see in a lifetime.

Posted by: Paulinus | May 14, 2006 7:18:31 PM