Recent reforms of laws regulating assisted suicide in some European countries are pro-euthanasia, and professional bodies have expressed support for relaxing the criteria for permitting assisted suicide.
reports that a commission was established in England to consider reforms on the law of assisted suicide. The commission, headed by Lord Falconer, was established following the publication of new assisted suicide prosecution guidelines
in February 2010. Opponents of Euthanasia have complained that the new guidelines favor any one who assists another in committing suicide.
Many are also worried that Lord Falconer's commission will recommend pro-euthanasia reforms. The Guardian
confirms Falconer's support of arguments in favor of Euthanasia:
"...during a harrowing year, with Falconer hearing highly emotional pleas for change and also for the status quo, the encounter that made perhaps the biggest impression was the clinical recounting by officers from West Mercia police of the criminal investigation into the distraught parents of 23-year-old Dan James. This, he [Falconer] says, was one of the clearest indicators that the law which punishes the aiding, abetting or counselling of suicide with up to 14 years in prison is neither fair nor right."
reports that Keir Starmer, director of Public Prosecutions in England, says since 2009 and following the publication of the new guidelines on prosecution of cases of assisted suicide, there has been an increase in incidence of cases of euthanasia. The Crown Prosecution Service, according to The Telegraph
, received 44 files on cases of assisted suicide since 2009. None of the persons identified, with evidence, as having been involved in assisted suicide was prosecuted.
John Flynn, writing in Zenit.org
, lists several cases of persons involved in assisted suicide who have managed to avoid prosecution: Janet Grieves helped Douglas Sinclair end his life by helping him prepare for a trip to Dignitas, a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland. Times, according to Flynn, reported that after investigations, police said Grieves could not be prosecuted under the new guidelines on prosecution of cases of assisted suicide. TV advertisement star, Stuart Mungall, smothered his terminally ill wife in December 2010. Herald Scotland
reports Stuart Mungall's case really was a case of homicide and not assisted suicide because Mungall's wife, who suffered a neuro-degenerative ailment similar to Alzheimer's, had not asked to die. The actor was given a one-year suspended sentence after evidence was shown that he was suffering severe depression at the time he smothered his wife, Joan.
Radio Netherlands Worldwide
reports The Dutch Physicians Association (KNMG) published a position paper which recommended relaxing the laws restricting assisted suicide. In the Netherlands, euthanasia is permitted only where the patient is suffering unbearably and there are no prospects of relieving the patient's suffering. But Dr. Arie Nieuwenhuijzen Kruseman of the KNMG, commented on the difficulty of establishing global criteria for allowing euthanasia under Netherlands laws of assisted suicide. Radio Netherlands Worldwide
quotes Nieuwenhuijzen Kruseman:
"It's quite possible that the same constellation of factors would be experienced as unbearable and lasting suffering by one patient but quite tolerable by another."
The difficulty of establishing global criteria on what constitutes "unbearable and lasting suffering," worries many opponents of euthanasia who point out that individuals who could have been helped in the long run may end up having their lives terminated under a legal régime that favours euthanasia. John Flynn, writing on Zenit.org
, refers to an Associated Press report on a study carried out by Dr. Steven Laureys of the University Hospital of Liege, published in the British Medical Journal
, which showed 47 out of 65 patients suffering from locked-in syndrome, a condition involving paralysis due to severe brain damage, were able to adapt psychologically to their condition. Flynn also cites the case of Simon Fitzmaurice suffering from motor neurone disease. Doctors who thought his condition met the criteria of "unbearable and lasting suffering," urged him to "make the hard choice." Fitzmaurice remarked :
"I think that to them[doctors], it is inconceivable that I would want to live...But not for me."
Opponents say relaxing restrictions on euthanasia will affect the way medical experts assess and treat cases of those considered terminally ill, and may compromise the decision making of persons who may not be terminally ill and do not wish to end their lives prematurely.
Dr. Peter Saunders of Care Not Killing, according to Daily Mail
, warns of the possible consequences of relaxing assisted suicide laws:
"All the evidence shows that any change in the law would place pressure on vulnerable people ... to end their lives so as not to be a burden on loved ones, carers, or the state."
"Vulnerable people" in this context are often the old, such as in the case of Nan Maitland
, who was not terminally ill but who, because she wanted wanted to avoid "the long period of decline" chose to die at Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. Old and terminally ill people who are concerned about not making themselves a burden to their relatives may come under pressure to choose to die.