The pro-euthanasia lobby and sympathetic media outlets like the BBC are gearing up for a campaign aimed at legalising assisted suicide through British Parliaments both north and south of Hadrian’s Wall.
In pushing their cause, those who want a change in the law will face four major lines of opposition: parliamentarians, doctors, faith groups and disabled people.
Neutralising these opponents will be their major focus as they seek to build their case around emotive testimonies and celebrity endorsement.
Their aim will be to find ‘role models’ from each of these ‘problem groups’ willing to become a public voice for their campaign to help create the impression that their proposals of ‘assisted dying with safeguards’ have universal backing.
Dignity in Dying (DID), the former Voluntary Euthanasia Society, has already established a group of retired professors and past medical leaders – originally HPFC but now rebranded HPAD (Health Professionals for Assisted Dying) – to counter the inconvenient fact that the BMA, all major medical colleges and two thirds of all doctors are opposed to any change in the law. They are now infiltrating the RCGP to try to push it neutral after failing to do the same with the BMA and have support from the editor of the BMJ. HPAD represents just one quarter of one per cent of doctors.
Gathering a lobby of clerics has proved even more difficult but DID has managed to gather some ‘faith leaders’ under the leadership of liberal rabbi Jonathan Romain. Interfaith Leaders for Dignity In Dying (or IFDiD) uses highly unorthodox interpretations of sacred texts to push the view that helping people to kill themselves is consistent with ‘loving one’s neighbour’.
In parliament there is the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Choice at the End of Life chaired by Heidi Alexander, Labour MP for Lewisham East. But their real champion is Lord Falconer, whose sham commission on ‘assisted dying’, stacked full of euthanasia sympathisers, recommended just over a year ago that the law should be changed to allow doctors to be licensed to dispense lethal drugs to mentally competent adults with less than six months to live. His bill currently before parliament seeks to make this a reality.
Disabled people have been much more difficult to pull into line, especially given that all the country’s major disability advocacy groups – SCOPE, Disability Rights UK, Not Dead Yet UK and UKDPC – remain opposed to any change in the law. They, more than anyone, know how easily vulnerable people can be pushed into ending their lives so as not to be a financial or emotional burden to others.
So the pro-euthanasia lobby has been looking for a disabled people’s champion to become the new poster boy for the campaign. And this week they found him –in celebrity scientist Stephen Hawking.
The publication of Hawking’s new book provided the hook for an invitation onto the BBC Breakfast national news programme last Tuesday where Hawking could be asked the question that would elicit the answer required to create the international news story:
‘I think those who have a terminal illness and are in great pain should have the right to choose to end their lives and those who help them should be free from prosecution. But there must be safeguards that the person concerned genuinely wants to end their life and they are not being pressurised into it or have it done without their knowledge or consent, as would have been the case with me.’
The set was thereby set for Lord Falconer the next day, on the very same programme, to promote his bill as the solution. I was initially invited to contest his position but was then stood down effectively allowing Falconer an open goal to say what he wanted in order to promote his bill.
Later in the week I was privy to a conversation of angry disability rights leaders wondering what they have to do to get their voices heard in the media.
We must make every effort to ensure that the very strong arguments against euthanasia get an equal airing to those of proponents for a change in the law. It will not be easy.