Lawson on euthanasia

by Stephen Tall on May 9, 2006

Dominic Lawson, somewhat to my surprise, has turned out to be a seriously good signing for The Independent. Today his must-read column scrutinises Lord Joffe’s bill to legalise a form of euthanasia (‘physician-assisted suicide’), which returns to the House of Lords this Friday for its second reading.

Lawson argues, with restrained passion, that the bill should be put out of its misery. The article is well worth reading in full (though sadly it’s behind the Indy’s subscription firewall), but here’s the devastatingly brilliant conclusion:

When last year the British Medical Journal published a leading article advocating physician-assisted suicide, the journal’s rapid-response website almost went into meltdown: “If I was prepared to kill my patients then with 15 per cent of my patients above 85 I would have lost all trust,” said one practitioner. “As one who spends every working day caring for the terminally ill I am acutely aware of the damage such a change would cause to vulnerable patients,” said another: “Call me a coward, but I didn’t go into medicine to kill people. Those advocating ‘assisted suicide’ expect us to include this in our professional duties – they can count me out.”

It’s clear that if Lord Joffe’s Bill were to pass into law, the British medical profession would refuse to implement it. There is, however, a solution which should appeal to its advocates, who say they dislike what they claim is the hypocrisy of the law as it stands. A new profession will need to be created – let us call its practitioners ‘terminators’. (Thanatologists would sound more impressive, but I don’t think the medical profession would want to lose its monopoly on Ancient Greek derivatives.) There will be a terminator at every hospital. He or she should wear a black gown so as to be distinguished from the doctors and nurses. Obviously we would wonder what sort of people would want this sort of job. But that’s exactly the point – isn’t it?