A Sunderland academic has spoken out against assisted dying as a British island considers a bill which would allow people to end their own life with medical help.
Proposals which could see people who are terminally ill, mentally competent, and have less than six months to live, end their lives with the help of a doctor, are expected to be voted on in May in Guernsey.
The decision, if voted through, would make the Crown dependency the first place in the British Isles to allow assisted dying. the Channel Islands.
The move could open the door for people from mainland UK who want to die, and meet the criteria, to travel to the island and take advantage of the new law.
Dr Kevin Yuill from the University of Sunderland is one of the most prominent voices against legalised assisted suicide in the UK, and has spoken out against the development in Guernsey.
“We should not as a society sanction the destruction of the lives of others," said the academic, who is an affirmed atheist.
“No one is saying that doctors should not occasionally take action to end a patient’s suffering in the last hours, days or even weeks of life; it is that we should not, as a society, sanction the destruction of the lives of others.
“I oppose legalised assisted suicide for the same reason I oppose capital punishment; it is wrong to take a life simply because it is wretched.”
The Guernsey proposal is based on the ‘Oregon model’ which states people must have a terminal illness before they can be considered. This has so far been adopted in six US states, as well as Canada and the Australian state of Victoria. New Zealand is considering legislation.
The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg have more permissive laws on assisted dying, based on applicants’ suffering. It is also restricted to citizens of those countries.
The Netherlands was recently engulfed with controversy after a 29-year-old woman, Aurelia Brouwers, who had mental illnesses, was permitted euthanasia.
Switzerland allows assisted dying on compassionate grounds to residents and non-residents.
Dignity in Dying, a campaign that wants to see a change in the law, claims around 44 British people travel each year to Dignitas, a Swiss euthanasia clinic.
If Guernsey’s Parliament passes the assisted bill, it will be subject to an 18-month consultation period.
In its position as a British crown dependency, Guernsey is able to set its own laws, but these then have to be approved by a privy council, a body of senior Westminster politicians.
But, Dr Yuill warned strongly that the consequences of such a decision are significant.
He said: “Once you legalise assisted suicide by doctor, it becomes a medical treatment. And can we please call someone purposefully ingesting poison suicide rather than the euphemistic “assisted dying”?
“Then you are left justifying why more and more people who are suffering should not have this treatment. And how can you deny medical treatment to anyone – including children – and call yourself humane?
“Even in Oregon, USA, legislators are pushing for expansion of assisted suicide to those suffering from degenerative diseases. And why not, given they have the prospect of suffering longer than those with six months or less left to live?
He added: “The truth is that no line that can be drawn has any moral or ethical basis. If we allow assisted suicide for some, we are really not that far away from the situation in the Netherlands, where 29-year-old Aurelia Brouwers, who suffered from severe mental but no physical disease, drank poison under the supervision of a doctor.
“Or Belgium, where 124 people were put to death in 2014-15 because they were suffering from mental illness or dementia.
“Nor is this about pain, which does not figure in the top 5 reasons why people opt for assisted suicides where they are legal.”
Kevin Yuill teaches American studies at the University of Sunderland. His book, Assisted Suicide: The Liberal, Humanist Case Against Legalisation, is published by Palgrave Macmillan.