Friday, May 12, 2006

Haematology, and Assisted Dying

The haematology consultant says I don’t need further treatment, and the stomach biopsy didn’t find any H pylori (you don’t want to know, but there’s plenty of stuff about it on the web)

Readings from latest blood sample:

Haemoglobin 10.6
White cell 3.6
Platelet 426

This afternoon I’m going to the House to vote for Joel Joffe’s Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill. I wasn’t intending to make the effort, but have been provoked by the blizzard of letters, obviously prompted by Christian groups, from people who haven’t read the Bill and make the most extraordinary assertions about its likely use by grasping relatives to kill off rich aunt Mildred, so that her estate isn’t squandered on nursing home charges. The Bill is a slippery slope, many say, which can lead to euthanasia on demand. This is total rubbish.

What the opponents of the Bill ignore is that an estimated 900 lives are ended each year in the UK by illegal voluntary euthanasia, and a further 2,000 lives are ended by doctors without an explicit request by the patient. Joel Joffe’s Bill puts the patient firmly in the driving seat, as in Oregon where a similar law, but with less stringent safeguards, has been in force since 1997, without any of the consequences, particularly for vulnerable groups, that are predicted here.

Under this Bill, the patient has to make a request in writing for assistance in dying. Two independent doctors then have to examine the patient and confirm that s(he) is suffering from a terminal illness. They must also verify thar the patient’s request is well-informed, persistent and voluntary, and that s(he) has the necessary capacity.

The doctors than have to inform the patient of the alternatives, including palliative and hospice care, and an independent palliative care specialist has to attend the patient to explore this option.

If there is any doubt about the patient’s capacity in the mind of either of the two doctors, they must call in an independent consultant psychiatrist or clinical psychologist

If all these tests are passed, the patient then has to make a written declaration of his or her wish to receive assistance in dying, to be witnessed by two independent persons, neither of whom can be a relative or involved in the patient’s care. One of the witnesses must be a solicitor, who has to be satisfied that the patient is of sound mind, understands the implications of the declaration, and is making it voluntarily.

The patient can revoke the declaration at any time, regardless of capacity, and 14 days must elapse between the declaration and the assisted dying.

The opponents of the Bill want to kill it off this afternoon, not even being prepared to allow it to be debated in detail in Committee of the whole House. That process would enable the House to review all the safeguards, and strengthen them if necessary. It would also reserve the right of the House to reject the Bill at Third Reading, if a majority still considered that it was unsatisfactory after lengthy debate and amendment.

The opponents say that if the Bill were given an unopposed Second Reading, it would be taken as approval of the principle, but in their same letter they acknowledge that the previous version of Lord Joffe’s Bill, which contained fewer safeguards, was given an unopposed Second Reading. So also was every single Private Member’s Bill introduced between the Session of 1997-98 and today, 91 Bills without a single division! Surely not every Member is to be taken as having approved all those Bills in principle? What they did was to make it possible for the 91 Bills to be discussed, so why silence debate on this particular Bill?

In 1995, my Blasphemy (Abolition) Bill was voted down on Second Reading, and although the Religious Offences Bill, incorporating the abolition of blasphemy, got a Second Reading and was sent to a Select Committee which reported on June 10, 2003, same people, including the Government, continue to maintain that the proposal hasn’t been sufficiently discussed.

In that case, as with Lord Joffe’s Bill, the Christian minority think they know what’s best for the rest of us. Nobody is going to compel a Christian suffering from an agonising terminal illness to ask for medical help in ending his life, but they want to impose their ‘principle’ on the whole population.

I’m in favour of improvements in palliative care, but anybody who has spent time in high dependency wards can tell you that medical science cannot always prevent unbearable suffering. Where that suffering is associated with a terminal illness, the patient should have the right to ask for medical help in bringing his life to an end here, rather than have to undertake a traumatic and expensive journey to Switzerland for the purpose.

Assisted dying for the rich is here to stay. For the rest, it does exist, outside the law and without safeguards. To accept this situation is inhuman and callous.

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