Byline: Madeleine Brindley
SOCIETY risks devaluing human life if it decides to legalise euthanasia, says a leading Welsh professor.
Ilora Finlay claims that allowing doctors the power to assist terminally-ill patients to die would lead the country down a dangerous path that raises major questions about the delivery of health care.
She says legalising euthanasia would send out a message to sick patients that their lives are worthless as they are no longer fit and well.
But organisations supportive of euthanasia claim legalisation will ensure that proper safeguards are introduced to regulate what is already happening within the NHS.
The comments of Professor Finlay, who is one of the 'People's peers', will reignite the heated debate about euthanasia in the UK as a Bill calling for a fundamental change in the law is considered by the House of Lords.
It follows cases of terminally-ill Britons travelling to Switzerland to end their lives at specialist clinics.
Professor Finlay, a professor of palliative medicine at the University of Wales College of Medicine, said, 'Euthanasia sends out a powerful message for society: do we value people intrinsically as human beings or have we become so utilitarian that unless they are fit and well they are thrown on the rubbish heap?
'Do we give people the message that they are worth bothering about when they are ill or do we go for the short cut in care?
'Euthanasia is cheap for the health service: it costs less than pounds 1 to give a lethal injection but hundreds of pounds to provide the quality of care.
'We either offer high-quality of care or take patients down the road that life is not worth living to the point that death is the only solution.'
A national opinion poll suggests that 81% of the British public support a change in the law to allow a person who is suffering unbearably from a terminal illness to receive medical help to die, if that is what he or she wants.
If passed by Parliament, the Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill would allow a terminally-ill competent adult to make a considered request for medical assistance to die and give them a legal right to maximum pain control.
It will also incorporate an opt-out clause for doctors who feel they cannot help a patient for reasons of conscience, together with numerous safeguards.
Professor Finlay, whose paper on euthanasia is published today in the British Medical Journal, says that legalising euthanasia is premature.
'Unfortunately there will always be some people for whom the law is not perfect, but it has to protect the majority in the population who are vulnerable,' she said.
She claims that those patients who have repeatedly asked for euthanasia have done so because they are not getting the care they deserve or are entitled to.
She highlights the case of one terminally-ill patient who could not have a shower for six months because the adjustments to his bathroom had not been made.
'These short cuts in care that patients experience gives them the message that they are of less value, not that they are ill,' she said.
'Society goes down a dangerous road if it decides that it will go for short cuts and kill patients rather than care for them. As soon as you say to patients they have a duty to die because they are using up money and resources it gives a terribly demoralising philosophy to the whole delivery of health care.'
Changes to the law have been supported by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society UK, which says that rather than reducing the quality and amount of care terminally-ill patients receive it will increase access to palliative care services.
VES spokeswoman Tamara Longley said that after a decision to allow physician- assisted suicide in Oregon the level of hospice care provided increased: 92% of patients choosing to die this way had some form of palliative care. …