Editor

The Medical Ethics Alliance joined the DPP and Home Office in opposing Mrs. Dianne Pretty in her High Court application that her husband could assist her suicide without fear of prosecution. We sought to place before the court medical evidence concerning palliation available for end stage motor neuron disease. We wished to challenge the assertion that her last weeks would necessarily amougnt to "degrading" or "inhuman treatment" in the meaning of the Human Rights Act 1998. The court however declined to hear medical evidence even on appeal, and proceeded on the basis of the unchallenged assertion of her lawyers.

Of the legal arguments heard , the judges noted that the court had not been told what was proposed to bring about Mrs. Pretty`s death and agreed that the DPP was right to contend that he had no statutory or other power to give any undertaking not to prosecute or grant a pardon in advance of any criminal conduct under the Suicide Act 1961 section 2 (4). Nor did he have any powers or resources to investigate her death.

We are now endeavoring to bring the conclusion of the BMA`s consensus conference opposing any change in the law on doctor assisted suicide to the appeal hearing of the Law Lords.We contend that doctors will inevitably become involved in such suicides. Further such a far reaching change in the law would have wide moral, ethical and social cosequences. This must preeminently be a matter for Parliament alone.

On the human rights argument the judges said:

"This case concerns the conflict between two of the fundamental rights possesed by all human beings the right to life and the right to decide what will be done with one`s own body. English law gives greater priority to the first as does the Convention. English law curtails a persons right to bodily autonomy in the interests of protecting that person`s life even against her own wishes".

Elswhere in the judgement they agree with the Assembly of the Council of Europe document "On the protection of the human rights and dignity of the terminally ill and dying 1999" saying:

"In our view the right to human dignity which is enshrined in article 3 is not the right to die with dignity, but to live with as much as can be afforded, untill that life reaches its natural end".

Unlike Len and Lesly Doyal who write "Once it is accepted that doctors should be allowed to make clinical decisions to end life passively on the basis of such claims, active euthanasia in the best interests of such patients would be the next logical step "(leading article the BMJ 10th November), rather the judges quoted from the Report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics 1994:

"The right to refuse medical treatment is far removd from the right to request assistance in dying. They did not believe that the arguments were sufficient reasons to weaken society`s prohibition of intentional killing. They could identify no circumstances in which assisted suicide should be permitted, nor did they see any reason to distinguish between the act of a doctor or any other person in this connection".

The prominence given by the BMJ to reasoning in favour of voluntary and involuntary euthanasia leaves us wondering if our association really does own the members policy decisions opposing both assisted suicide and euthanasia voted through by overwhelming majorities at successive Annual Representative Meetings in 1998 and 1999. Nor do we think that the reporting of this 67 paragraph judgement is at all propertly reflected in the BMJ`s legal report of 20th October. This vital and weighty judgement can be obtained from The Royal Courts of Justice,Strand,London,WC2A 2LL,Case no CO/3321/2001

Yours sincerely
Dr Anthony Cole
Chairman Medical Ethics Alliance