The public profile of the Alliance continues to grow with a number of its officers being interviewed on radio and television. As a body that seeks to promote debate on ethical issues within and without medicine this is welcome but there are inherent difficulties for your spokesmen as the Alliance does not have one mind on all the issues . That is why it is necessary that our conferences are well supported so that your views can be elicited. The conference on "The Ethics and Application of Stem Cell Research", of 16th May is particularly important. It is occasioned by the Report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Stem Cell Research which gave approval to licensing of embryos for use in destructive research and cloning to 14 days.
That report is notable for its hesitancy, even recommended that the subject be re-examined within 10 years. They may well have been perplexed by the way in which Britain is becoming ever more out of step with other countries. President Bush urged the United States Senate to ban all forms on cloning. "Life is a creation, not a commodity. Allowing cloning would be taking a significant step towards a society in which human beings are grown for spare body parts, and children are engineered to custom specification: and that's not acceptable."
More of our lectures are reported in this newsletter and from these it will be clear that the Alliance is not a single issue organisation. What is little short of remarkable is that as ethical dilemmas surface with bewildering speed how the values of Hippocratic medicine and the World Faiths are not only able to respond but usually reinforce each other. They need to be heard in the moral vacuum that utilitarianism has created at the centre of modern medicine.
The Dianne Pretty Judgement
At the time of writing the final judgement of the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is still awaited. The Alliance was granted intervenor status in British courts and advanced a number of medical and legal arguments. At the outset medical evidence which would have challenged the central assertion that Mrs Pretty would necessarily die in a manner that was "degrading" and "inhuman", which her legal team claimed made the case a human rights issue, was refused by the courts. Nevertheless the judgement especially of the Law Lords acknowledged that evidence on palliative care was missing but that it was well known that doctors were almost universally opposed to assisting suicide.
Mr Pretty was denied immunity from prosecution or a pardon in advance if he assisted his wife's suicide. The court noted that her lawyers had given no indication of how it was proposed that she should die so that they were not even able to determine if it would be suicide.
Five Law Lords joined three Appeal Court judges in ruling that her human rights were neither engaged or denied. The case which could have virtually legalised assisted suicide if not euthanasia instead erected a formidable legal barrier to such a radical change being effected outside of Parliament.
Assisted Suicide False Claims Refuted
In a talk given in a Birmingham psychiatric hospital Mr Wesley Smith, attorney, gave an account of the way he became aware of the covert method of operation of the proponents of assisted suicide in the United States. He produced the plastic bag that he had been sent by post with no questions being asked after the outlay of $44 . This came with advise on overdosing. He described the advocates of suicide as "whispers" who undermined the encouragement that family and friends may give to the depressed. He became aware of this in the "suicide file" of a friend who had killed herself.
A number of compassionately worded laws had been advance in various jurisdictions in the United States but most on closer examination were a threat to the lives of the demented and described how lonely and neglected people may come to have their negative feelings about themselves reinforced.
He went on to describe how working with disability and self help and pro-life groups most of these laws had been prevented from progressing . The state of Oregon being the exception. There it was becoming increasingly obvious that loneliness and not wishing to be a burden on others were the principle reasons for requesting assisted suicide.
A Number of Artificial Reproduction Ethical Questions Arose
The strangest of these was a Lesbian couple who wanted to have a deaf child as they themselves were deaf. This case was highlighted by the "Daily Mail" as the "Born to be Deaf" case. Alliance spokesmen had little difficulty in dismissing the claim that deafness was not an issue here. "We would not be having this discussion if either of us were deaf" he told the interviewer who readily agreed.
A case of an IVF birth following pre implantation diagnosis and tissue typing to produce a child who could be used as a donor of stem cells to treat a sibling with thalasaemia major was given approval by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority resulted in correspondence between the Alliance and the HFEA Director. It was remarkable in that she included the recommendations of their own ethics committee. This on close reading did not even address the question, which seems central to us, which is that of justice between parents and the next generation.
The Miss B case
This resulted in a television discussion with a BMA spokesman and the editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics and a member of the Alliance. The discussion was cut short by other news items but it was hard to see that any new principle in law had been created by accepting that a patient had the right to refuse treatment, even if that treatment was sustaining life. Nevertheless the moral dilemma of the medical team having to take a course of action which result directly in death needed to be understood. The judges reference to relieving terminal symptoms was also concerning.
A Conference entitled; "The Ethics and Application of Stem Cell Research" will take place at St Mary's Hospice Conference Centre, Birmingham,16th May, price £8 including supper. Speakers Prof N Scolding and Mr Peter Garrett and an intrfaith discussion panel. Information and application, The Medical Ethics Alliance, 106a Battenhall Rd, Worcester, WR5 2BT
Fringe Meeting at the BMA Annual Representative Meeting, Harrogate,July. Title and speaker to be announced, details from Dr G Gardner,45 Elizabeth Rd, Birmingham,B13 8QH.
An Autumn conference is planned in London entitled "Is Healthcare a Human Right" at which Alliance members with considerable experience of working in some of the worlds poorest countries will speak Details later from Springhill House. Springhill Lane, Wolverhampton, WV3 0HF.
Please would members remit £15 membership fees by cheques made out to "Medical Ethics Alliance", and Applicantions for membership please contact the Secretary.