Euthanasia: public opinion and MPs' courage

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article "Democratisation of death" (16 March) contains an apparently benign but, in fact, highly dangerous notion when it states that: "for some time now, the tide of public opinion has been running in favour of liberalising the laws on euthanasia".

Some members of the British medical profession, no doubt conscious that the "democratisation of death" would require rather more than a minor amendment to the Hippocratic oath as a result of a decision by Parliament to legalise euthanasia, have wisely stated that such an ending of a person's life would have to be carried out by a separate body. What members of the public, then, would be charged with performing that ghoulish task?

A Gallup poll, in September 1989, revealed that 16 per cent of the British public was in favour of capital punishment for "murder by someone while suffering from insanity or some serious mental disease", while 74 per cent of the same cross-section of the British public wanted capital punishment for "murdering someone just for the fun of it".

Public opinion may not always be well informed and rational enough to determine final decisions on matters of life and death. The long tradition of putting suffering and aged animals "out of their misery" cannot safely be extended by law to humans, even though some may desperately desire it. There are better ways.

Mercifully, our Members of Parliament continue to vote courageously on the issue of capital punishment, against the wishes and "tide of public opinion" of their constituents. It is hoped that they would vote with equal courage against any bill to legalise euthanasia.

Yours sincerely,

MICHAEL HENRY BIRCH

Royal Tunbridge Wells,

Kent

16 March

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