CONCERN that Britain might follow Holland along the road to widespread use of euthanasia was voiced in the House of Lords last night by one of the country's leading surgeons.
Lord McColl, the Professor of Surgery at Guy's Hospital, London, said there was evidence from the Netherlands to show that "the current practice of euthanasia is out of control". Advocates of the "right to die" often point to Holland as a model for how doctor-assisted voluntary euthanasia for terminally-ill patients can work without abuse.
But Lord McColl said the system of regulation was not working and pointed out the dangers of Britain adopting similar practices under a review of the law now taking place in Whitehall. Last month, Church leaders expressed concern that plans to make "living wills" legally enforceable marked a further step towards the acceptance of voluntary euthanasia. It is feared that the courts could be used to make case law that would by-pass Parliament and allow doctors to assist the deaths of mentally-incompetent patients.
Lord McColl said that as a result of lenient judgments by Dutch courts, accepted medical practice changed and euthanasia became acceptable. He said: "By the time Parliament considered the matter in 1993, it was a case of attempting to shut the stable door after the horse had bolted". He claimed that attempts were being made in Britain to mirror the position in Holland and cited last year's High Court action brought by Annie Lindsell, who suffered from motor neurone disease.
The action was supported by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society ostensibly to establish the sort of treatment her family doctor was entitled to give. In the event, the case collapsed because the court ruled that the palliative care proposed was already legal. But Lord McColl said: "The purpose behind the Annie Lindsell case was to try to obtain permission to give an unlimited and unspecified dose of diamorphine which could have resulted in her immediate death and would then have been hailed as the first legal case of euthanasia in this country.
He said: "How can we be sure that what happens in Holland today will not happen in this country tomorrow?"
Lord Irvine, the Lord Chancellor, is considering whether to introduce laws to give statutory force to living wills, whereby an individual states what sort of treatment that they would want should they fall seriously ill. He said last month: "The Government's opposition to euthanasia is settled, well-known and unqualified."