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

Head of IT (Not-for-Profit sector) - East Sussex

£45000 - £50000 per annum + 5 weeks holiday & benefits: Ashdown Group: Head of...

Nursery Nurse

£25 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery nurse needed in th...

Supply Teaching jobs in Thetford

£21588 - £31566 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

KS1 teachers needed in Peterborough

£110 - £125 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education are ur...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Texas Gov. Rick Perry might try to run for president again in 2016  

Rick Perry could end up in jail for the rest of his life — so why does he look so smug?

David Usborne
 

August catch-up: architecture, suitcases and ‘pathetic figures’

John Rentoul
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape