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BEST OF OffG: “Right to Die…or Right to Kill?”

Kit Knightly

Harold Shipman murdered 250 people. A right to die law would make him a humanitarian who broke no laws.

Republished as part of our ‘Best Of’ series, revisiting some of OffG’s Pre-Covid editorials – either because they help remind us of important realities easily overlooked nowadays, or because they take on added significance in a ‘post-covid’ world.

The Guardian had been regularly pushing legalising euthanasia for months when I wrote this response in 2018. The possible abuses seemed far too obvious to justify passing a law.
With references to involuntary euthanasia, and serious medical malpractice in the name of “protecting the NHS”, the parallels to our post-Covid world are clear. It’s probably more apt now then at the time it was written.

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The Guardian’s “Comment is Free” section makes for predictable reading this morning. John Harris says Brexit is bad and Corbyn is to blame, Shon Faye writes that trans rights are a class issue and Rhil Samadde is going off on one about handshakes and Donald Trump.

There’s nothing there about veganism or how Vladimir Putin causes global warming, but it’s still only early.

Truly serious issues coveredNone.
Set-menu “liberal” agendas pushedSeveral.
Virtue signalledLoudly and at length.

The worst offender is Polly Toynbee, and that’s not really unusual: She thinks we should have a “right to die” law.

The Gosport Scandal involved healthcare workers murdering patients with morphine, and Harold Shipman murdered patients with morphine.

Polly thinks the best way to fix this would be to make murdering patients with morphine legal. The logic is flawless.

She outright dismisses the argument such a law could be abused with one non-sensical sentence:

The difference between unwanted death and assisted suicide can be encapsulated in one word: choice.

And then does the same to the “slippery slope” argument with another:

Those who, mainly for religious reasons, claim it would be a slippery slope to Gosport-style dangers, deliberately ignore how a law would prevent another Gosport, with proper regulation bringing transparency to end-of-life treatment.

Both these statements miss the point entirely – Objecting to the “right to die” law isn’t a religious argument, or a moral one, but simply a practical one: The law could be abused, and it is a slippery slope.

A law, any law, is (or should be) for the protection of the majority of decent people from the criminal minority. Writing a law that grants a “right to die” leaves a loophole for vulnerable people to be taken advantage of.

It is the same argument for suicide being illegal. Suicide isn’t illegal to stop people jumping in front of a train, taking fifty aspirin, or nose-diving off the Golden Gate Bridge, because clearly any suicide victim is well beyond the prosecution of the law.

Rather, the act is made a crime – and therefore investigated by the police whenever it occurs – to deter those who would prey on the mentally vulnerable and protect impressionable people from being manipulated into ending their lives.

If the “Right to Die” law, that Polly is advocating here, had existed twenty years ago, Harold Shipman would never have broken any laws or seen the inside of jail cell.

For those who do not know – Harold Shipman was an English doctor, and prolific serial killer, who gave his elderly patients morphine overdoses and (either through manipulation or forgery) made himself the beneficiary of their wills. He killed well over 200 people in this fashion. Had the UK had a “right to die” law, he could simply have manipulated his patients into filling out a euthanasia request, and never have done anything illegal at all.

Passing a “right to die” law now would allow future Shipmans (Shipmen?) to operate with impunity, entirely within the bounds of law, or permit avaricious next of kin to knock grandma off early for the inheritance, all in the name of “humanitarianism”.

And that’s just on the individual level.

On the state level, we already have a Tory government that has caused 120,000 deaths through barbaric austerity, that has told the disabled and the dying they must return to work, that has halted state-support for people with cancer, or people in wheelchairs.

Thousands of poor people have died after being declared “fit for work”.

We also have a Tory MP who has argued for halting life-extending care for the over-eighties.

How long after the “right to die” law is passed will it stop being a “right” and start being a “duty”?

How long before people who don’t avail themselves of their right to die are deemed to be “wasting public money” or “putting a strain on the NHS”?

Will people have their pensions or other benefits halted for refusing to make the right “choice”?

The State already has too much power, and has shown that they will abuse it at every turn. Granting them more would be, in this case, literally suicidal.

It is an accepted fact of life that well-intentioned healthcare professionals, using their own experience and judgment, almost certainly do help terminal patients over the finish line sometimes. Such a practice is a complex moral grey area, between the doctors, patients and their respective consciences.

The “right to die” does exist in our society, as an informal agreement between informed individuals on an ad hoc basis.

For the sake of protecting the public from sociopathic individuals, or a merciless state, it needs to remain that way.