Photo by Olga Kononenko on Unsplash

In 1983, Neil Kinnock gave a speech in which he warned:

If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday, I warn you not to be ordinary. I warn you not to be young. I warn you not to fall ill. And I warn you not to grow old.

Today, those words seem eerily prescient.

In 2015, Ed Milliband flirted with the idea of including euthanasia – so-called ‘assisted dying’ into the Labour Manifesto.  That year, an assisted dying bill was defeated in the Commons by 330 to 118.  You would think that settled the matter but in 2021 Baroness Meacher introduced another assisted dying bill in the Lords.  That too was defeated.

And today, we learn that Esther Rantzen is in favour and plans a trip to Dignitas if her current treatment doesn’t work out.  There are supportive articles in the media, looking very much like an organised campaign.

Labour Leader Kier Starmer is quoted as saying that ‘there are grounds for changing the law’ on assisted dying and minister Mel Stride says he ‘would not be averse’ to another Commons vote.  You can write the script now.  There will be a lot of heat and noise generated either side of the 2024 General Election and a Private Member’s Bill will be introduced just after, which will miraculously be given Government time to ensure it gets passed.

The heat and noise will come from the chatterati, uniformly pitching the idea that the freedom to die is the ultimate choice.  There will be slogans about relieving intolerable suffering, and we’ll be told that ‘you wouldn’t put a dog through that pain’.

Hard cases make bad laws, and you can be certain that the hardest of hard cases will be paraded in front of us.

The arguments in favour of AD are basically autonomy (freedom of choice) and pain relief.  Arguments against include:

Life is sacred

Pain relief is available

Coercion of the vulnerable

The slippery slope

Let’s take each in turn:

Life is sacred.

If we deem that not every life is sacred, how do we pick and choose?  Just as important, who gets to do the picking and choosing?  And what happens when you are selected as ‘not worth saving’?  I’m sure there will be a cold-blooded cost-benefit to show it’s better to direct scarce resources at people with more taxpaying years ahead of them, but it sticks in my throat.

Pain relief.

Morphine and other modern drugs can relieve pain.  We are all going to die and we all would prefer to slip away gently, if need be on clouds of opiates, rather than in agony.  We will hear a lot about agony in 2024.  But good palliative care should control pain, and it can significantly improve quality of life, alleviate physical symptoms and reduce depression.  I think that upping levels of pain relief medication is right even if it has the side-effect of bringing death nearer.  It is not helping a terminally ill person to inflict invasive procedures on them to keep them alive.


No-one wants to be a burden on our families, especially true of people who have lived active lives.  But people who are old and ill are vulnerable to coercion from their relatives.  At one time I was a Probate clerk for one of the banks, and my job involved dealing with the accounts of customers who had died, and with their bereaved relatives.  I have listened to relatives bickering about who was to have which piece of jewellery that the deceased had left with us in Safe Custody.  Now imagine that assisted dying were to be legal.  The bickering, and the nudging granny to ‘do the right thing’, would be off the scale.  If anyone believes that there is any legal safeguard that would protect the vulnerable from being pressured into accepting the lethal injection, then I have a bridge to sell you.

That slippery slope.

It’s real and it’s steep.  In 2016 Canada introduced MAID – Medical Assistance In Dying for ‘those whose deaths were reasonably forseeable’.  In 2021 the scope was widened to include people whose deaths were not ‘reasonably forseeable’.  And in 2024 the scope will widen again to include people with mental health conditions.  That wooshing noise you hear is goalposts whistling past your ears.

In Belgium, assisted dying was introduced in 2002; in 2013 they widened the scope to include children.  In the Netherlands they made euthanasia legal in 2001 and in 2004 the Groningen Protocol was developed, which set out criteria to be met for carrying out child euthanasia.

This article will not change anyone’s mind.  If you are with Esther Rantzen, no words of mine will suffice to get you to switch sides.  But I believe that, whatever the sharp-elbowed chattering classes say, our society has a duty to protect its most vulnerable members.  That definitely includes people who are ill and/or old.  It’s a big ask.  Are we up to that challenge?

This topic will feature a lot in 2024 and there will be yet another euthanasia bill introduced into the House of Commons.  If you think it will make a difference, write to your MP and ask him or her to attend the debate and vote against the proposal.

Laws, it’s said, don’t change hearts, but they can restrain the heartless.

© Jim Walshe 2024