Sunday 17 March 2024

Force To The Warnings

Supporters of assisted dying need to grasp that they will almost certainly get more than they say that they want. You will have to judge whether they really are as moderate as they claim, or whether they reckon – with good reason – that legalising assisted death will allow them to expand their scheme in ways that would horrify many now. The campaign to legalise abortion on demand was never, in my view, frank about its true aims. Nor is the similar campaign for assisted dying.

Reform of the abortion laws in 1967 was supposed to help a minority of women trapped by terrible circumstances and a brutal, unforgiving law into dangerous actions. In Britain, the argument of safety was paramount. This version is still current. The TV series Call The Midwife has more than once included vivid, emotive and one-sided storylines in which the pre-1967 law is portrayed as unjustified, harsh, inflexible and even fatal.

Claims were made in the 1960s that between 50,000 and 250,000 women were at risk each year from botched illegal abortions. Such cases were tragic but there is little hard evidence that these horrors were as common as claimed.

In April 1966, the British Medical Journal carried a report from the Council of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. It argued from known figures: ‘If there are 100,000 criminal (including self-induced) abortions being performed annually, this means that they are attended by a mortality rate of only 0.3 per 1,000. The risks of criminal abortion are established to be high, so the known number of deaths suggests that the total number of such cases must be considerably less than that alleged.’ The College also noted that ‘therapeutic’ abortions, based on the pre-1967 law, were being carried out in significant numbers in NHS hospitals – 2,800 in 1962. Many more were taking place in private clinics.

Now legal abortions run at almost 215,000 a year in England and Wales. They show no signs of diminishing despite (or perhaps because of) decades of sex education, the ready availability of contraceptives and the ‘morning-after pill’. Many abortions are now carried out with little medical intervention, by the use of ‘pills by post’. And this huge action – in which I believe a human life is destroyed – may very soon be freed from any further legal restraint. A planned amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, which has wide support among MPs, would abolish sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 plus the 1929 Infant Life (Preservation) Act. Its effect would be that ‘no offence is committed by a woman acting in relation to her own pregnancy’.

Even some liberals think this goes too far. I think it is a warning of how far assisted dying will go, if we let it happen. Sir Keir Starmer is promising what is called a free vote. That is, one in which MPs have no need to tell voters what they plan to do before they do it. But they are under huge pressure from liberal conformism to support assisted dying.

There is another worrying aspect. Until recently, abortion advocates at least claimed to think disposing of an unborn person was bad and should be uncommon. Its American supporters, notably Bill and Hillary Clinton, proclaimed in the 1990s their aim was to make abortion ‘safe, legal… and rare’.

Interestingly, modern feminist advocates of abortion reject any suggestion that it should be ‘rare’. Amelia Bonow, a co-founder of the pro-abortion-rights group Shout Your Abortion has said: ‘I cannot think of a less compelling way to advocate for something than saying that it should be rare. And anyone who uses that phrase is operating from the assumption that abortion is a bad thing.’ In 2012, the US Democratic Party dropped the word ‘rare’ from the abortion section of its official policy platform.

I suspect we are dealing, in the case of abortion and assisted dying, with something much deeper than compassion for the suffering. A new anti-religion, the belief that above all things we should control our own bodies, has rushed into the space left by the death of Christianity. You will hear it all the time if you challenge any modern cause, from drug taking and abortion to the transgender movement: ‘What right have you to tell me what to do with my own body?’

But in many cases those who take this view are putting themselves in danger, from drugs or from invasive medical procedures they may one day regret. The losers in almost all such cases are the close families of those involved. The law, and society, will no longer support them in any pleading they may make.

This gives force to the warnings of those who argue assisted dying in this country will rapidly copy the frightening system in Canada. By 2022, that country was ending the lives of 13,200 people a year, 4.1 per cent of its annual deaths.

The unborn baby is short of defenders when the case for abortion is made. He or she has no voice and is regarded as not yet human by many pro-abortionists. But how much voice will the chronically sick have if it becomes legal to snuff them out?

Many feel guilty about the burden they place on their loved ones. As a society we badly fail to provide the palliative end-of-life care which would surely be the best answer to the needless suffering visited on so many in their final months.

But I think it is worse than that. These changes are a retreat from Christian civilisation into a Brave New World where all who get in the way become disposable. We have dehumanised the unwanted unborn and are about to dehumanise the inconvenient old and ill. Who’s next?


  1. Only 23 people went to 'Dignitas' execution centre in Switzerland from the UK last year.

    Yet Esther Rancid and Starmer would have you think tens of thousands are desperate to be offed.

    1. They are desperate to off us. Rantzen was the second most powerful woman in Britain in the 1980s. This is where Thatcherism ends up.