The final year of this current Parliament opened today with the Queen's Speech, in the wake of which we expect Lord Falconer's 2013 Assisted Dying Bill to be retabled. In Scotland, Holyrood's Health and Sport Committee are accepting evidence on Margo MacDonald's Assisted Suicide Bill until Friday 6 June. And the ruling of nine Supreme Court justices who sat last December on the Nicklinson case is expected any day now. With more appalling evidence pouring in from abroad, this is one of those weeks when the euthanasia threat is palpable.
Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill, first introduced in May 2013, fell at the close of the Parliamentary year last month, but he is set to reintroduce his proposals in coming days, following the State Opening of Parliament. Disability activists have initiated a petition calling on David Cameron to act on his personal opposition to assisted suicide, which we encourage you to sign; debate has been ongoing, and carer Colin Harte's recent radio interview is very much worth listening to.
Following the death of Margo MacDonald in April, the Green MSP Patrick Harvie has assumed responsibility for the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill. The Bill's underlying principles constitute a counsel of despair, while a meeting of lawyers in Scotland recently agreed that 'the Bill as drafted... would be unworkable'. The Health and Sport committee are taking evidence until 6 June: read the call for evidence here, CNK's submission here and our brief overview of the bill here.
Despite most Supreme Court rulings being handed down around three months after the relevant hearing, the nine justices who heard the appeals in the cases of Nicklinson/Lamb and 'Martin' are yet to rule five and a half months on. This, it is to be hoped, is a sign that the gravity of the cases is being fully acknowledged. The ruling's delivery will be streamed live online; until we know when, remind yourself of some of the key questions.
Reports last week suggest that Belgian euthanasia deaths rose 26.8% in 2013 to 1,816, representing five people every day having their lives ended, and a Brussels nurse has recently written of 'what really happens in Belgium's healthcare system with euthanasia'. The head of the regulatory commission, Wim Distelmans, who is already the subject of high profile official complaints, has sparked controversy by announcing an instructional tour of Auschwitz. If you are concerned about the situation in Belgium, please sign EPC Europe's petition calling for the suspension of the euthanasia law there.
In Switzerland, meanwhile, extraordinary cases of non-terminally/chronically ill patients undergoing assisted suicide are increasingly becoming part of standard practice. EXIT, one of the more prominent assisted suicide organisations, has recently announced that it will now accept non-terminally ill elderly people, in a worrying but sadly unsurprising move.
Our Campaign Director, Dr Peter Saunders, raised over £5,000 for Help the Hospices running the London Marathon - you can still donate here. A number of very positive reports have highlighted the value and dynamism of care for those with terminal and progressive conditions, including a BBC feature on hospice care and press coverage given to a new initiative concerning dementia.
There have however been less agreeable reports concerning failings in care for elderly and dying people, further careless celebrity endorsements of euthanasia and evidence of a need for more frank discussion of death and dying. A challenge for all of us is: how do we build up a culture of care which not only responds to the needs and rightful expectations of those around us but which also guards against attempts to offer death as a 'sensible alternative'?
In a foreword to a recent photo project featuring dying people, Alain de Botton wrote: 'The dying are the great appreciators... They notice the value of the sunshine on a spring afternoon, a few minutes with a grandchild, another breath… And they know what spoilt ingrates we are, not stopping to register the wonder of every passing minute. They were once like us of course. They wasted decades but now they are in a position to know of their folly and warn us of our own.'