Considering Physician-Assisted Suicide: An evaluation of Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill

06 May 2006

With the Second Reading of Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill set for 12 May, Care Not Killing has released John Keown's new publication An Examination of Physician Assisted Suicide - a detailed evaluation of the Joffe bill.

The publication draws the following conclusions:

  • The Bill invites us to step onto a precipitous slope: from lethal prescriptions to lethal injections; from patients who are suffering 'unbearably' from terminal illness to those who are not; and from patients who can ask for accelerated death to those who cannot.
  • The Bill could not control the practice of physician-assisted suicide.
  • The 'safeguards' in the Bill are insufficient to ensure that individual patients who committed physician-assisted suicide would have made a free and informed decision unaffected by psychiatric disorder. The Royal College of Psychiatrists is, understandably, 'deeply worried' by the Bill.
  • The Bill fails to adopt a number of key suggestions made by the ADTI Report.
  • The ADTI Report contains valuable insights (not least its questioning of pro-euthanasia claims about current public opinion and medical practice) but its summary of practice in the Netherlands and Oregon needs to be read with care.

Professor John Keown graduated in law from the University of Cambridge before taking a doctorate at the University of Oxford. He is now Rose F Kennedy Chair of Christian Ethics in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University. His other publications (which have been cited by bodies including the US Supreme Court and the House of Lords) include Euthanasia Examined (1995) and Euthanasia, Ethics and Public Policy (2002), both published by Cambridge University Press.

Lord Brennan writes in the foreword: 'The debate on euthanasia has been in real need of a work of this quality. The combination of deep learning and the highest intellectual discipline make this an indispensable source for all. The reader will become factually enlightened and ethically enriched. And the debate should move to a level of serious enquiry which is essential if principle is to be protected against expediency