Chris Lancelot: Freedom to choose works both ways

How should we proceed over euthanasia and assisted suicide? Legislation on the latter is currently before parliament. Many doctors believe in it strongly: others object just as vociferously.

I have always felt that, in a truly free society, no one should force their views on anyone else, nor have that person's views forced upon them. This means that no one of sound mind should be forced by the state to remain alive when they don't want to be: by the same token no one should be required to promote, support or perform euthanasia or assist with suicide if they choose not to.

In this way the rights and beliefs of the patient are fully acknowledged, as are the rights and beliefs of the carers and healthcare workers.

But note that word 'promote'. To many people, encouraging or recommending euthanasia is abhorrent. If the law is changed to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia it will be vital simultaneously to ensure that all healthcare workers - including administrative staff - are allowed, if they wish, to distance themselves fully from becoming involved.

Not only must healthcare workers be able to opt out of physical involvement, they must also be able to opt out of discussing it as a treatment option. Nor should they be burdened with - to them - the intolerable duty of passing the patient on to another healthcare worker or institution which is prepared to carry out the patient's wishes.

I find it both fascinating and intensely sad that, in an age when the individual's rights and wishes are held to be pre-eminent, society has reduced progressively the ability of health professionals to behave according to their personal beliefs.

Society rightly stands up for those who don't want shares in the armaments industry or who prefer not to eat meat - yet it may not understand that for a healthcare worker to be required to direct a patient to a euthanasia or assisted suicide clinic is to force them to aid and abet an action with which they may profoundly disagree.

I believe strongly that in a free society people should be able to end their lives if they want: and that individual doctors, nurses and ancillary staff should also be free to have nothing whatsoever to do with it.

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