Hugh Baker has worked himself up into a righteous anger by the parliamentary and media progress of the Euthanasia Bill and is deeply angry at the modern cultural expectations behind it
I was recently asked to give some input to an In Service Training Course for Doctors. The Euthanasia Bill was about to come up for a hearing in the House of Lords. What I heard disturbed me.
The causus classicus in this case received his day in media court about eighteen months ago. Mr. Robert Crew, a 52 year old consultant neurologist, found the muscles of his left leg twitching. The diagnosis, as he feared, was Motor Neurone Disease.
Retiring from work, he spent the next three years fighting the illness and giving himself to his family. Fighting hard, he swam two to three miles a day, as he lost the use of his limbs and his fingers curled inwards. Carers put him on the commode, showered and dressed him at the beginning of the day: from thereon, the whole burden of his care fell upon his wife: this included turning him throughout the night.
Knowing what level of care, and what further deterioration, awaited him, Mr Crew finally decided to buy a one-way plane ticket to Switzerland, where an organization called Dignitas would arrange his death.
Using hard cases
Lobbyists in liberal causes often promote themselves on the backs of hard cases. Media prominence is given to one – often, just one – story that no one with a heart could not warm to, and Mr Crew got full television exposure.
They did not, though, tell you the following. For £27 (Swiss law forbids profit-making on assisted dying) Mr Crew used the Dignitas premises to end it all. Dog-loving friends I have consulted tell me they would pay more to have their dog put down. From talking to them, I am of the impression your dog’s demise would warrant more medical time and care than Mr Crew’s did. Moves are afoot to enable euthanasia to be carried out in Swiss hospitals; for the time being, though, you must visit the Dignitas Clinic (their word), owned and run by one – yes, one – doctor.
The staff have enough qualifications to be Auxiliary Nurses in the NHS. You are offered no counselling or other support: you are sat in a chair, the lethal dose is administered by drink or injection, and you are left, sitting there, to die. Does that sound like dignitas to you?
Similar publicity led to euthanasia being allowed in Oregon, USA. It was, of course, going to be used infrequently, in extreme cases only. Self-death there has now passed 600 cases a year.
Holland had a blind eye turned to elderly patients being discreetly morphined away for a number of years. Now euthanasia is legal, statistics show a measurable rise in assisted deaths. One in five attempts at death do not work: the patient is shaking too much to properly administer his own final medicine.
I have tried (and failed: doctors are very tardy at answering emails) to find out more of the facts behind the above figures. Are people coming in to Oregon from other states to die? At what rate is their euthanasia total rising? Solid answers to these questions would be instructive.
At present, the Euthanasia Bill lies in limbo. If it comes back before the Commons, amendments are on hand to bring all of the above into the proposed ‘Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill’ Bill.
How do we react to this story? The GPs present knew only too well that provision for the frail and dying varies widely across the land. Had a better health care package been offered, Mr Crew (whose motive for what he did was the strain being placed on his exhausted wife) may have been content to die of natural causes.
Being a burden
For Christians, of course, ‘being a burden’ is acceptable, since we see people as being more important than money, careers or this world’s happiness. ‘Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ,’ says Galatians 6.2, in a passage which warns us against getting above ourselves. Politics drives the level of provision provided for ‘non-useful’ members of our society, and politics are driven by values, which in turn are shaped by perceived facts.
Bearing burdens is good for us. It builds family and community and teaches us the true love which goes with giving up our own desires in humble service of others. We, by contrast, now see carers as The Desperately Unlucky: they cannot go to Ibiza or afford a camcorder like the rest of us, because they are lumbered with looking after some old crone whom they cannot afford to park in an Old Folks’ Home.
This attitude to dependency can amount to downright fear. Mr Crew’s demise has recently been mirror imaged by that of Dr Anne Turner who, in a letter sent to friends, wrote ‘I am just so tired of being dependent on people.’ A lady of no faith, she seems to share the emotional pigmydom that goes with rationalism. It forbids pain, suffering and tears, and decrees that the cameras be met with an unyielding smile. (The cameras were present: aware of the publicity potential of her death, Dr Turner had invited the press along to the family’s final Zurich jolly. Her children, dutifully grinning, surrounded her for her final photo opportunity.)
Treating life cheaply
Sin, like any untreated virus, spreads: treat life cheaply at its beginning, and give legal permission to kill before birth, and eventually you will kill those who have survived birth – as and when it is convenient for the rest of us.
Once sex is no longer a sacrament of sacrifice to a worshipped beloved, but becomes part of the personal entertainment industry, the worship of Baal and Asherah is followed by the worship of Moloch. Against this background, Proverbs 24.11–12 tells us not to wink at Sin, ‘Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering towards slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?’
We face a crisis of our own making. Our prosperity and medical knowledge mean we can now produce, and sustain, a large population of the old. We face a choice as to whether or not we want to. That choice will demonstrate the depths, or shallowness, of our love.