British judge criticizes euthanasia law reform

One of the most respected authorities on end-of-life law in Britain has warned politicians not to legalise assisted suicide. Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, former president of the High Court Family Division, wrote in last week’s Sunday Telegraph:

"Laws, like nation states, are more secure when their boundaries rest on natural frontiers. The law that we have rests on just such a frontier. It rests on the principle that we do not involve ourselves in deliberately bringing about the deaths of others.”

"Once we start making exceptions based on arbitrary criteria like terminal illness, that frontier becomes just a line in the sand, easily crossed and hard to defend."

As the country’s most senior family judge, Lady Butler-Sloss ruled in 2002 that a woman paralysed from the neck down could have medical treatment withdrawn and die peacefully in accordance with her wishes.

However, she believes there is a strong distinction between euthanasia and treatment withdrawal. Euthanasia, unlike treatment withdrawal, involves "giving active assistance to people to end their lives".

Judges from the Supreme Court are currently considering three separate legal challenges to the country's ban on euthanasia. A private members bill to legalise euthanasia was tabled in British parliament by Lord Charles Falconer earlier this year. It is set to be debated in the House of Lords within a few months. 

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