Today we celebrate; Day for Life. First, an extract from Lord David Alton’s speech in the Lord’s debate a week ago followed by a most remarkable story.
‘How much autonomy is there in this Bill? I think that the word “assisted” in the title is the key. Who will be required to do the assisting? It will be doctors, of course, and very few want to do it. One of my sons is training to be a medic, and he tells me that he is deeply concerned about this Bill because of the proposals to change the nature of the healer and defender into the destroyer of life. That is why the British Medical Association, the Royal Colleges, the British Geriatric Society, the hospices and 95% of palliative medicine specialists oppose a change in the law. We had a reference earlier from my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson to Professor Theo Boer from the Netherlands. He said that he now regrets that on the basis of the argument for greater autonomy and freedom he supported changes in the law there. He said: “I used to be a supporter of the Dutch law. But now, with 12 years of experience, I take a very different view.” Pressure on doctors to conform to patients’—or in some cases relatives’—wishes can be intense. Professor Boer admitted he was, “wrong—terribly wrong, in fact”, to have believed that regulated euthanasia would work. One reason why he has changed his mind is because of the inevitability of incrementalism. Euthanasia, he says, is, “on the way to becoming a default mode of dying for cancer patients”. Since 2008, assisted deaths in Holland have increased by about 15% every year, maybe reaching a record of 6,000 a year. What of incrementalism here? The 2011 commission of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said that assisted dying should not be offered to disabled people who are not terminally ill, “at this point in time”. At what point in time will it be right to offer to end the lives of people with disabilities? How long will it be before it becomes expected? Only today the Secretary of State for Health, the right honourable Jeremy Hunt, said that changing the law would “devalue” the lives of people living with permanent disabilities.
Finally, in her autobiography Mother Courage, published last Friday in Portugal, Dolores Aveiro, wrote “At the time I was already 30 and had three children, and it seemed to me I couldn’t face a new birth and a bigger family so I turned to a doctor who, however, refused to operate on me.” Her husband was an unemployed alcoholic who later died in 2005. The doctor’s reluctance and his attempts to dissuade her from an abortion did not stop her from attempting to abort her child herself. She failed. Then little by little she relented and decided to welcome her fourth child. “If it’s God’s will that this child be born, so be it.”
On February 5, 1985 she delivered a healthy boy who grew to be one of the world’s most famous footballers: Cristiano Ronaldo.