Assisted dying would turn doctors into executioners

A majority of Britons may support the Bill, but that's also true of the death penalty

Share

Clayton Lockett’s death by lethal injection earlier this year in Oklahoma brought a storm of criticism of Oklahoma’s death penalty procedures. Lockett mumbled, writhed, blinked his eyes and licked his lips throughout the procedure and took over 30 minutes to die. The Los Angeles Times observed: “The Oklahoma case is sure to be cited as strong evidence that state prison authorities cannot be trusted to capably administer lethal injections.”

But today the House of Lords is debating whether to invest British doctors with the same powers as the Oklahoma state prison authorities. Doctors will effectively become executioners if Lord Falconer’s Bill becomes law.

Why do liberals who, like me, think that capital punishment is unacceptable in a civilized society rush to support Falconer’s Bill? Beyond simply the method of dispatching people, there are many other similarities. If the premeditated killing of a human being by the state, even for the best possible reasons, is wrong, assisted dying is wrong.

Of course, there are important differences between assisted dying and capital punishment. But the similarities bear scrutiny in relation to today’s debate.

Dignity in Dying proudly state that a majority of Britons support assisted dying. True, but also true of the death penalty in the UK; about 60% would like it re-instated.

This brings up an important point. Both measures are not simply about the individuals concerned – just as there are few executions of only the most vile individuals (it would be hard to find a better candidate than Lockett, who shot his victim and then buried her while she was still breathing), there would be only around a thousand a year who would elect for an assisted death. Their stories are often as tragic as Lockett’s is despicable. But hard cases do not make wise law nor do they justify overriding an important principle.

Assisted dying has the noble aim of reducing suffering. However, as the Oregon Death With Dignity reports demonstrate, this suffering is not physical pain, which is not amongst the top five reasons why some opt for assisted deaths; loss of autonomy, of enjoyment of life’s activities, and dignity are the top three. It would be difficult to dismiss the pain and suffering of the grieving friends and relatives of Lockett’s victim that might be alleviated by bringing “closure” through  his execution.

Of course, Falconer’s Bill differs in that it is based on the wishes of the patient. Many state executions are also voluntary; 11 per cent of all executions since 1977 in the US involved “volunteers” – prisoners who waived their right to appeal. Does that make these executions right and the others wrong?

Read more: The case for assisted dying: compassion, choice and safety
Assisted dying could create "death squads"
Lord Joffe compares assisted dying to abolition of slavery

The maxim “it is better to let ten guilty men go free than to convict one innocent man” is often heard in the debate over capital punishment. The possibility of mistakes worries many about the death penalty. It is worth keeping mind the fact that both processes are irreversible.

Are the terminally-ill are the best candidates for death; are their lives somehow less valuable than those of child-rapists and murderers? Is there less chance of dealing with their depression than there is reforming death row prisoners?

The danger of Falconer’s Bill is less slippery slope than moral rubicon. If we are to place value on even the most wretched of human lives – an important marker of civilization – neither the death penalty nor assisted dying can be justified. If we go down either road, we sacrifice something of our humanity.

Dr Kevin Yuill is Senior Lecturer in American History at the University of Sunderland, and author of Assisted Suicide: The Liberal,Humanist Case Against Legalization

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Tony Abbott: A man most Australian women would like to pat on the back...iron in hand

Caroline Garnar
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea performs in California  

Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting

Yomi Adegoke
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there