Monday, July 14, 2014

Desmond Tutu confuses assisted dying with switching off life support.

This article was written by Renee Joubert, and published by Euthanasia Free New Zealand.

The “Falconer Assisted Dying Bill” will receive it’s second reading in the UK House of Lords on Thursday. It proposes legalising physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill who has been given 6 months or less to live.

Bishop Desmond Tutu has allegedly voiced his support for “assisted dying”, with reference to the terminal illness of his friend Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, during 2013.

According to CNN (27 June 2013) and News 24 (4 July 2013), the 94-year-old Nelson Mandela was in a persistent vegetative state and on life support to help him breathe. Medical staff advised his family that the machines should be switched off. Mandela eventually died on 5 December 2013. It seems that the delay could have been caused, at least in part, by a family dispute.

Some subsequent news reports published elsewhere, such as this one by 3News, claimed only that Mandela had been suffering from a recurring lung infection and that he had been “receiving intensive care at home” since 1 September.

Interesting that Bishop Desmond Tutu now admits publicly that Mandela was indeed on life support and that “prolonging his life was an affront to his dignity”, according to an article on

“I think when you need machines to help you breathe, then you have to ask questions about the quality of life being experienced and about the way money is being spent.”
Yes, keeping a person on life support for 5 months would indeed be a considerable expense…

But it doesn’t follow that it should be legal for doctors to deliberately kill patients.

Switching off life support is ethically different from euthanasia and assisted suicide, also called “assisted dying”.

When life support is switched off the patient is allowed to die from their underlying terminal medical condition. It is ethical, legal and good medical practice to withdraw medical care that has become futile.

When a terminally ill patient receives “assisted dying”, i.e. assisted suicide or euthanasia, the patient dies from a deliberate fatal act by another person and not naturally from an underlying medical condition. The patient’s body is still capable of being alive and is deliberately killed, most often by injecting or ingesting a lethal drug.

“Allowing to die” and “deliberately killing” are ethically two very different things. The argument that life support should be switched off shouldn’t be used to justify killing by lethal injection.

There’s also a huge difference between a person in a persistent vegetative state, reliant on machines, such as Mandela, and a terminally ill person who still has 6 months to live.

It seems that Bishop Tutu is confusing the two. Assisted Dying laws don’t apply to people on life support such as Nelson Mandela. It’s already legal to allow them to die.

“Assisted dying”, physician-assisted suicide, would change the nature of the medical profession and the relationship between doctors and patients. Physician-assisted suicide is contrary to the Hippocratic Oath, the Declaration of Geneva, the International Code of Medical Ethics and the Statement of Marbella.

Assisted Dying is opposed by the British Medical Association, New Zealand Medical Association, World Medical Association, Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of General Practitioners, British Geriatric Society, Association for Palliative Medicine, Hospice, The World Association of Persons with Disabilities, The World Institute on Disability, European Institute of Bioethics, and many others.

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