'Assisted dying' debate: these sick people cost a lot so it's time to move them on

Ann Farmer
February 08, 2024
Reproduced with Permission

Matthew Parris, a former member of Parliament, is one of the UK's leading commentators. It has been said that his columns in the London Times and The Spectator are "essential reading by many in Westminster".

So when he talks complete rubbish about "assisted dying", it's important to put him right.

In a recent article in The Spectator, Parris claimed that "assisted dying is inevitable" although this campaign faces opposition "from religious people who often hide their personal investment in their faith and attach themselves instead to secular and medical claims, aware that 'God' does not, these days, clinch a public debate."

I won't hide the fact that I have religious convictions, but I speak as someone who has lived with the misery of chronic illness for decades. It's not the wrath of God that I fear, but the penny-pinching of gods in the National Health Service.

I have Ehler's Danlos Syndrome (problems with collagen, loose joints), Sjoergren's, PoTS, dysautonomia and gastroparesis. Together these affect balance, gait, muscle strength, energy production, stamina, digestion, lungs and skin (although thankfully a few bouts of skin cancer have responded to treatment).

I call it SSS - Several Syndromes Syndrome. In Belgium it is called "polypathology" and it is an accepted reason for requesting euthanasia. When it first came on with full force, over 20 years ago, it felt like going suddenly from middle age to old age. Now I have to use walking sticks, a wheelchair and mobility scooter, but I seldom go out and need a long period of recuperation when I do.

These add up to a permanent disability. There is no cure.

But in my experience, doctors did not care. I encountered a signal lack of interest and downright rudeness - one doctor even shouted at me that "they found nothing wrong with you in the tests". Another asked me: "Why are you walking like that?"

Recently it was quietly decided that people with hypermobility but without constantly dislocating joints do not need specialist care. It took me ten years to get a diagnosis, at my own initiative, after changing doctors several times. Eventually I self-referred to an NHS specialist I read about in the newspaper and after a battery of tests and a miraculous coincidence, finally I got a diagnosis, or rather diagnoses.

Since then I have met with good, caring doctors, but there are no guarantees - doctors are human too.

Even before the Covid pandemic overloaded the health service, I became horribly aware of how convenient some medicos would find it if patients like me simply gave up and went away - preferably permanently. Legalising assisted dying would be the last piece in the puzzle of treating the long-term sick/disabled/elderly - all of whom could all be classed as terminally ill.

If they couldn't patch us up, they could despatch us. If they couldn't help us out, they could help us on our way out. It's a little problem called human nature, common to us all, which means that we cannot trust humans to "safely kill" the weak and helpless.

Matthew Parris is admirably candid about me, or people like me. We should die.

"As to adding pressure upon the terminally ill to lift the burden they're placing on others... well, let me bite the bullet. In time, I think that the spread and acceptance of assisted dying may indeed do that. And let me bite deeper into the bullet. I think this would be a good thing."

He explains just how good a thing it is:

"With advances in medical science, humans will get older and older, spending longer and longer as invalids, and with more and more of the last years of their lives in a condition that brings little pleasure and increasing pain. The option to foreshorten this will have to be more easily available and social mores will change to accommodate it."

Well, thank you, Matthew Parris! Presumably I should book in at a Swiss assisted suicide clinic for next week.

Parris may well have some idea about the reality of living with chronic illness, but it does not show. The instinct to live is very strong, unless people are mentally unwell, in which case we try to prevent their suicides - despite the fact that they might be facing a long life of mental "misery". And once assisted dying is legalised, logic dictates that, as in Canada (although the next step down the slippery slope has been paused for a while) they will be the next in line for this "benefit".

Parris fails to mention any obligation on the rest of society to improve conditions for the aged and infirm and fails to acknowledge that our health service was meant to serve all who need it or might need it in future, funded by everyone. It was not established for the well and wealthy but for the sick and poor.

There is no need to speculate on what might happen if assisted dying is legalised, for it has already happened, and is still happening, wherever it has been legalised. Those of us who are disabled and/or chronically sick are deeply concerned about this.

Douglas Murray brilliantly highlighted the dangers, also in The Spectator, and if the wider public ever gets to hear about the appalling situation in Canada, Belgium and the Netherlands, it will become less sanguine about the possibility of introducing a scheme of safe killing.

Canada, where Army veterans have been offered euthanasia for chronic illness instead of government services, never figures in calls for assisted dying. Its fans do sometimes mention "safeguards" that will accompany legislation here. Unfortunately for this argument, it has now been admitted that safeguards are included in assisted dying legislation to ensure its safe passage, after which they can be just as safely dismantled - like the Canadian "mental health" exception that accompanied the law's introduction.

A prominent assisted dying proponent, Charles Falconer, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State under Tony Blair, and now a Labour peer, recently acknowledged: "Canada is being used primarily as an argument against us, not an argument in favour... It does in one sense [represent a slippery slope], doesn't it, because it started off with terminal illness and it's ended up with non-terminal illness and mental illness."

Lord Falconer put forward his own Assisted Dying Bill in 2015, so he should know.

It is certainly very rare for the real reasons for introducing assisted dying to be voiced. I congratulate Mr Parris for blurting out the truth: those tedious enough to take "an unconscionable time dying" - which by definition includes the disabled, chronically sick, most old people and me, for Heaven's sake - cost the State lots of money, representing not just a drain on state coffers but also a burden on their nearest and dearest.

Mr Parris is right about one thing. Assisted suicide and euthanasia would indeed become normalised as the strong realise how very useful it is to get rid of the weak. We might become a materially richer society by introducing "euthanomics", but very much poorer in the way that matters most: our humanity. A society that kills its weak and vulnerable is not the sort of society that most of us care to live in. As G.K. Chesterton observed, it would be a case of "the survival of the fiercest".

Mr Parris is also openly gay. And he compares the campaign for gay rights to the campaign for assisted dying.

"Opponents argued that it was a slippery slope; that our campaign would lead to demands for total equality of esteem; that homosexuality would burst out all over the place and prove contagious, even popular; and 'spread' as a lifestyle choice. Privately I rather agreed with them, but our campaign ducked such a scenario. All we wanted, we argued, was to be left alone. We played down the idea of noisily assertive gay pride, knowing it would hinder, not help, our campaign.'

However, he adds: "I'm old now, wearying of tactics. So on assisted dying I'll go for honesty."

I thank him for his honesty. I always told people that the assisted dying crowd was trying to tip me over the slippery slope. Now I can say, I told you so! Not only is the assisted dying slippery slope real, but its advocates are applauding it.

And with an overwhelmed NHS and ever-lengthening queues for treatment, what could possibly go wrong?

Matthew Parris says that assisted dying is inevitable. Well, dying is certainly inevitable, but killing as an economy measure - euthanomics - is not.