Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: Lessons from Belgium

edited by David Albert Jones, Chris Gastmans, Calum Mackellar, CUP, 378pp, £90

The push for assisted suicide and euthanasia is so slick and well-financed in Britain that it is a small miracle that the law has not changed in a way similar to that of other jurisdictions whose values we tend to share, such as Canada, some states of Australia and America and the more liberal nations of the European Union.

Every year brings a new challenge to the law in either the courts or Parliament and the media seem to have an endless stream of sympathetic stories about “mercy killing” or “dying with dignity”. Perhaps the reluctance of our politicians to capitulate to such pressure indicates that our democracy, by and large, remains functional and our elected representatives sometimes retain the capacity to reach the right conclusions when they are presented with facts instead of propaganda.

It is this commitment to establishing the truth about euthanasia that makes this volume so valuable. A collection of academic essays, it is dedicated to the late

Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick, a gallant opponent of euthanasia. It would be fair to assume therefore that the book has an anti-euthanasia bias, and so it has, but the arguments nonetheless rest on hard facts.

Yet this book also considers arguments from a pro-euthanasia perspective by including an essay written by four Belgian palliative care specialists – one of whom, Marc Desmet, is both a Jesuit and a doctor. They effectively laud euthanasia as a blessing that has enhanced, rather than undermined, the highly advanced system of palliative care in Belgium. The introduction of an additional element of patient choice into the dying process has meant that palliative care has been “forced to develop further”, they argue, with “more professional end-of-life care that better responds to patients’ wishes”. They add reassuringly that “there is no indication of an alarming increase in the number of euthanasia cases or of significant misuse of any medically assisted end-of-life decision”.

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