Society’s most vulnerable risk being bullied into an early death by greedy or uncaring relatives or bureaucrats, a study published by the Centre for Policy Studies said.
The warning follows the launch in Britain of Healthcare Professionals for Change last week, the first professional body of doctors and nurses set up with the explicit aim of changing the 1961 Suicide Act.
Assisted suicide is a criminal offence in England and Wales, punishable by up to 14 years in prison, but the motives of those assisting death are at the centre of the decision over whether they should be prosecuted.
Cristina Odone, author of Assisted Suicide: How the Chattering Classes Have Got it Wrong, said any attempts to change the law should be resisted.
“Legalising assisted suicide and euthanasia will put the socially marginalised at serious risk. Attempts to change the law should be resisted,” she said.
“The elderly, people with severe disabilities, the mentally unstable, and those with terminal illnesses will be presented with self-inflicted death as a natural, normal and expected final solution.”
Odone went on: “For the vulnerable, once it becomes enshrined in the law, this ‘right’ might turn into an obligation.
“They may feel that, once over a certain age, or grown too dependent on others, or too fed up with life, or too ill, they should opt for death.”
“Worse, many may be coerced, actively or subtly, by cost-conscious hospitals, or by intended heirs with an eye to a legacy, or by exhausted carers.
“As assisted suicide becomes embedded in our culture, investing resources in caring for these vulnerable groups will be seen as a waste.”
But Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said the so-called “slippery slope” argument was not supported by evidence from Oregon, in the US, and the Netherlands, where assisted dying was legal.
“The legalisation of assisted dying with upfront safeguards will better protect all people, including the ‘old, ill, mute and frail’,” Wootton said.
“Assisted dying legislation would shine a light on end-of-life practice, which currently has far too much emphasis on doctors’ decisions and not enough on what the patient wants, and would ensure potentially vulnerable people were protected from a duty to die, while those dying people who want the choice of an assisted death are protected from a duty to suffer.”