Capturing the language of (assisted) death

Jul 29, 2021 by

by Trevor Stammers, Christian Medical Fellowship:

Those promoting the agenda that, in plain speaking, wants the UK to legalise doctors to be able to provide a prescription for a lethal draught with which patients can kill themselves, have a long history of shape-shifting their language. Morphing from the Voluntary Euthanasia Society to Dignity in Dying in 2006 was a smart – if not uncontested – move.

Gradually shifting the terms of the debate and hence the questions asked about it in public surveys, from ‘assisted suicide’ to the muddier waters of ‘assisted dying’ was another masterstroke. Resolutely  opposed as I am to legalising doctors assisting patients to kill themselves or to intentionally kill them at the patient’s request, when faced with a YES/NO tick box after the question ‘Do you support assisted dying?‘ even I have ticked YES in the past. At that time I used this term to refer to symptom control by palliative care teams during the dying process. If you ask that question you will get a very different set of responses from asking ‘Do you think doctors should legally be able to help patients kill themselves?‘ This is far less ambivalent but campaigners for assisted suicide know it will get far fewer positive responses, so they will never ask it.

Massaging the numbers of supporters is another well-known ploy in campaigning. Nobody likes to be in a minority do they? There are some 195 countries in the world and only 24 jurisdictions in 12 countries* have made assisted suicide (which for obvious reasons I will continue to call it here) legal (or at least decriminalised). Only seven of these (the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, Canada, Columbia and Western Australia) have legal euthanasia as well as assisted suicide.

So only around 10% of the world’s countries have legalised assisted suicide, though the number of people with access to assisted suicide in such countries was recently estimated at 200 million, which is around 2.5% of the world’s population.

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