The dangers of systemic pressure on the NHS from state-assisted suicide.
Assisted suicide is the cheapest ‘cure’ for old age.
Government planners will be all too aware that, should sick people be given a new “option-to-die” rather than to be cared for, enormous financial savings on NHS and social care budgets will be possible. Indeed, two Scottish academics, Dr David Shaw and Prof. Alex Morton, hit the headlines last year when a paper they had published highlighted the financial savings to be made from legalising assisted suicide and euthanasia.
As one palliative care consultant in New Zealand put it, “The availability of assisted dying could leave those eligible feeling they now have to justify… the expense of keeping them alive, and why they’re putting their family and caregivers through the burden of caring for them”.
A cynic might observe that this could be attractive to a certain kind of politician or NHS manager, but the obvious danger is that the economic pressure to cut costs will determine clinical priorities and inevitably place systemic pressure on doctors to help to end the lives of patients. Within the NHS, there have been many examples of a postcode lottery where tests, treatments and drugs can be restricted on account of location, age or cost. In 2016, a Marie Curie report estimated that 1 in 4 people in Scotland who would benefit from palliative care when they are dying do not receive the care that they need. Given the pressure that NHS budgets are likely to face as our economy recovers from the Covid pandemic, are we to believe that systemic pressure can be avoided when the choice could be between £400 for a lethal cocktail or up to £90,000 for an extended period of palliative care?
The real danger is that, by changing the law to legalise assisted suicide, the incentive to invest in palliative care will be reduced rather than increased. In Canada, promised extra funding for palliative care never materialised after their law was changed. Rather ‘future cost savings’ of around Can$149m in health expenditure are estimated according to a Canadian parliamentary report.
The only way to prevent that systemic pressure from contributing towards making it all too easy for doctors to end patients’ lives in ever increasing numbers, is to reject any proposal to change the law.