Euthanasia: public opinion and MPs' courage

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The Independent Online
From Dr John Searle

Sir: Your leading article supports the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia on the grounds of personal autonomy: if I want to die doctors should be allowed to end my life. However, before changes are made in social policy, two questions have to be asked. First is the proposed change necessary, and, second, what will be the wider consequences.

On the evidence of the film on BBC2 last evening (15 March), Cees van Wendel de Joode was given two options. Either his decline and death would bring terrible suffering - pain, choking, suffocation and waterlogged lungs - or these could be prevented by killing him. He was not offered the third option of good palliative care. All the evidence from hospices demonstrates that, even for people with terminal neurological disease, these symptoms can be controlled. That choice was not put to him; his decision was an ill-informed one.

It sounds very plausible to centre the debate on personal freedom; but where the exercise of that freedom infringes the freedom of others, limits should be placed upon it.

The protagonists of euthanasia insist that in Holland euthanasia is only administered at the consistent request of an incurable patient.The fact remains that in Holland around 1,000 people each year are killed by their doctors without these criteria being met. What is voluntary for some is assumed to be in the best interests of others. There is no reason to believe that a similar pattern would not rapidly develop here.

The answer to the suffering of the terminally ill is not to kill them but to care for them properly.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN SEARLE

Consultant Anaesthetist

Royal Devon and Exeter

Healthcare NHS Trust

Exeter

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