A Bill to effectively legalise euthanasia is due to be debated in Parliament in less than two weeks' time. The following briefing was compiled by Peter Saunders, General Secretary of the Christian Medical Fellowship outlining the position of parliament, the medical profession and the churches on euthanasia. (This briefing has been slightly edited by ICN. Please feel free to copy and circulate it.) The Assisted Dying Bill The debate on the House of Lords' Select Committee report on Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill will take place on 10 October starting at 3.30pm and continuing until all speakers have had their turn, possibly as late as 11.30pm. There are currently 59 speakers listed on the Lords Whips website: www.lordswhips.org.uk of whom just 28 oppose the bill. There will be no vote on the day of the debate but arguments put forward will play a major part in determining future events. Lord Joffe is expected to introduce a revised bill attempting to legalise euthanasia along the lines of the Oregon model (PAS but not euthanasia) possibly as early as the following week. This will then proceed to a second reading (where there is traditionally no vote in the Lords) and then to a committee of the whole House before coming back to a third reading and vote. If it passes this it will proceed to the House of Commons. If it successfully traverses the Commons it will become law. This whole process could happen in a matter of a few months. The best chance of defeating the Bill is in the House of Lords either through 'wrecking amendments' or through a defeat at third reading. It is predicted in the Report on the Joffe Bill that an 'Oregon' law in the UK would lead to around 650 deaths a year compared with 13,000 for a 'Netherlands' Law. For more information see Andrew Fergusson's article on Oregon, 'Going West' in the Summer 2005 edition of Triple Helix on the Christian Medical Fellowship's website at www.cmf.org.uk The Medical Profession The BMA remains neutral. Many doctors have written to the British Medical Association (BMA) to complain about the way the change of policy on euthanasia was brought about but it is clear that the BMA has closed ranks around Ethics chairman Michael Wilks. The official line is that a neutral position on euthanasia is now official BMA policy and cannot be changed until the next ARM in Summer 2006. We are greatly concerned that the pro euthanasia lobby will use the BMA position as a lever in the coming parliamentary debate. The BMA's current position is that it believes that the question of the criminal law in relation to assisted dying is primarily a matter for society and for Parliament. The BMA's recent annual conference voted that 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. We are very concerned that the tactics used to bring about this change of policy were highly unprofessional and undemocratic. In particular Michael Wilks used his powerful position as chairman of annual representative meeting discussing the issue, chairman of the ethics committee giving 'expert input' and chairman of the agenda committee framing the 'on the hoof' motions for delegates to vote on in the last hour of conference to powerful effect in bringing about the change. The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) opposes any change in the law. At its Council meeting on 16 September the RCGP abandoned its neutral position and is now formally opposed to any change in the law to allow euthanasia. The RCGP said in a statement: Overwhelming support was given by RCGP members and faculties to the statement on assisted dying for the terminally ill opposing any change in legislation. Taking account of comments received, the following position statement was agreed: The RCGP believes that with current improvements in palliative care, good clinical care can be provided within existing legislation and that patients can die with dignity. A change in legislation is not needed. Dr Mayur Lakhani, chairman said: "This is an important and clear decision by the Council of the RCGP. The RCGP is the largest medical Royal College with over 23,000 members. Great care and attention has been taken over this debate which has now been considered by Council twice. The College does not support a change in legislation. Out of 380 GPs who registered their opinions 300 were opposed to any change in the law Other Royal Colleges neutral The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) took a neutral position on euthanasia when gave evidence to the Joffe committee last autumn on behalf of all royal colleges. World Medical Association opposes euthanasia Medical opposition to PAS was affirmed by the World Medical Association in the 1992 Statement of Marbella, and reaffirmed in May 2005 at the WMA 170th Council Session at Divonne-Les-Bains, France. The WMA statement said: Physician-assisted suicide, like euthanasia, is unethical and must be condemned by the medical profession. Where the assistance of the physician is intentionally and deliberately directed at enabling an individual to end his or her own life, the physician acts unethically. Medical Literature The British Medical Journal this week published several articles in support of euthanasia and these have provoked a huge response from frontline doctors who do not believe that the law should be changed. You can read articles and responses at www.bmj.com Churches united in opposition to euthanasia The joint statement by Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops in September last year is at: www.cofe.anglican.org The Church of England made a strong stand in rejecting the legalisation of euthanasia or assisted suicide, with a massive 293 to 1 vote at the General Synod in York. Three bishops (London, Oxford and St Albans) are down to speak at the Lords debate. The Archbishop of Canterbury addressed euthanasia recently in a lecture to mark the Centenary of Friends of the Elderly, Church House, Westminster on 6 September: I have to say too in this context that the current drift towards a more accepting attitude to assisted suicide and euthanasia in some quarters gives me a great deal of concern. What begins as a compassionate desire to enable those who long for death because of protracted pain, distress or humiliation to have their wish can, with the best will in the world, help to foster an attitude that assumes resources spent on the elderly are a luxury. Investment in palliative medicine, ensuring that access to the best palliative care is universally available, continuing research not only into the causes but into the behavioural varieties of dementia and so on - how secure would these be as priorities if there were any more general acceptance of the principle that it was legitimate to initiate a process designed to end someone's life? ACTION POINTS: 1. Letter writing. Please encourage people to write to members of the House of Lords urging them to attend the debate on 10 October, or if they speaking, to oppose a change in the law. A full directory of members of the House of Lords, is available on the Parliament website via www.parliament.uk/useful/address.cfm 2. Take part in the survey presently being run by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Compassion in Dying which you can find online at www.politics.co.uk/microsites/15023863/downloads/surveyhenry.rtf (copy & paste into your browser) - or check: www.cmf.org.uk 3. Please pray: For all speaking in the debate on the Joffe Bill Report on 10 October, For those in leadership at the BMA and RCP. For leaders in the churches. For everyone campaigning against the bill. For changed minds and hearts.
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