Senior doctors will tomorrow express concern over the number of Britons suffering from non fatal illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis and kidney disease who have used the Swiss suicide service, Dignitas.Probably because they can’t face many years of misery and struggling to get appropriate care and medical assistance from the crippled NHS, where resources flow like water for the latest fad, and the authorities positively relish control over the tiniest minutiae of the lives of the people who have no choice but to use it, but where simple things like clean, non-mixed wards are increasingly hard to come by.
But the BMA members have no wish to sully their hands with anything like the facts, or spend time debating the shocking state of the NHS. Not when they can whine about the ‘immorality’ of people choosing to escape their tender mercies instead:
Their fears were raised after the Guardian obtained a list drawn up by Dignitas which reveals the medical conditions which have driven 114 Britons to end their lives at the clinic.But here’s the rub, doctors; they didn’t want to!
The document shows that while many had terminal illnesses such as cancer and motor neurone disease, others had non-fatal conditions which doctors say some people can live with for decades.
And it’s their life…
The details have prompted deep concern among senior doctors, calls for the NHS to provide much better end-of-life care and a renewed debate over demands for a new legal right of assisted death to render the growing British use of Dignitas unnecessary.Well, there’s a nice rallying call: ‘British death factories for British sufferers!’
How about calling for a long, hard look at what’s wrong with the NHS instead?
But it’s not all about simply not biting the hand that feeds you. There’s principle at stake here, it seems.
The principle of doctor-as-god:
Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: "I'm horrified by this list. While I appreciate that some patients with conditions like these experience great suffering and misery, I'm concerned because I know that many of the conditions outlined are conditions patients live with and can live with for many years and continue to have productive and meaningful lives."But everyone’s different. And just because some people can live with a non-lethal condition doesn’t mean everyone is able to, or should therefore want to.
Dr John Saunders, chair of the Royal College of Physicians' ethics committee, said: "The conditions are so varied that it suggests that Dignitas is not undertaking the adequate medical assessment [of patients seeking its help] that might be expected. The list does suggest that Dignitas is cavalier in arranging for people to end their lives."Well, it’s what they do, after all.
You might as well whine that Apple don’t ask if people buy iPhones to make important business calls rather than rabbit to their friends about the latest Big Brother shenanigans…
Dr Tony Calland, chairman of the ethics committee at the British Medical Association, the doctors' union, said: "This list raises considerable concern. There are some conditions such as Crohn's disease and rheumatoid arthritis that, whilst extremely unpleasant, are eminently treatable and many of the symptoms can be relieved. To go off and commit suicide simply on the basis of these conditions would be premature and unreasonable."And there you have the attitude of the modern concerned medical professional in a nutshell – that you might feel that your life is so full of pain and misery that it’s no longer worth continuing is a personal affront to him and all his colleagues.
You should suffer so that he can feel useful.
Their fears were echoed by Edward Turner, whose mother Anne, a retired doctor who had the incurable degenerative condition supranuclear palsy, became a focus of the right to die debate when she killed herself at Dignitas in January 2006. "The principle should be that if somebody is terminally ill and has started the process of dying, it's not unreasonable for them to have an assisted death. When people have non-terminal conditions, that's more troubling", said Turner.There’s the operative word there – ‘can’.
"I don't want to see assisted suicide legalised for people who are disabled but not dying because morally that's a different thing. With the right care and support someone with tetraplegia, for example, can find quality and meaning in life."
It’s logical to suppose that for some, they cannot. And that should remain their choice, no matter how uncomfortable it makes some doctors.
Anyway, aren’t doctors supposed to consider the needs and wishes of the patient over those of their own ego?
Next week's annual conference of the BMA will debate calls to end the threat of imprisonment hanging over those who go with loved ones travelling abroad to commit suicide, and a right of assisted dying in the UK for the terminally ill.It’s worth keeping an eye on this one – there’s bound to be some spectacularly ill-thought-out suggestions that throw the attitudes of some doctors into sharp relief…