Guernsey Press

We debate euthanasia as we live in a world full of unintended consequences

I READ the letter of your correspondent Steve H (GEP 17 April) with dismayed sympathy; it seems that the slipped disc from which he had been suffering produced truly agonising symptoms. Mr H seemed to imply that the only pain management offered him was morphine – this is in fact not recommended for the management of chronic pain, being more suitable for patients approaching the end of life. There are other ways of managing pain from a slipped disc. I am glad that a surgeon was able to resolve the issue for Mr H.


However, your correspondent seems not to be well informed about euthanasia legislation. In most jurisdictions where euthanasia has been proposed, the practice begins with people whose death is foreseeable within six months, and there are supposed to be stringent safeguards in place. So conditions such as your correspondent describes would fall outside the remit of most initial proposals to allow doctors to kill their patients. And therein lies the rub – if someone in dreadful pain whose death is foreseeable can seek the alleviation of death, then surely (the argument runs) someone who is not dying but in dreadful and incurable pain has a ‘right’ to similar alleviation. For this reason, euthanasia provisions usually expand, for once the basic principle of protection for innocent (i.e. non-harming) human life has been breached, no safeguards can be found which will prevent expansion. So in Holland this very month, a physically healthy young woman Zoraya ter Beek is availing herself of euthanasia because of chronic psychiatric disorders. The Netherlands legalised euthanasia in 2001. Since then, the number of euthanasia deaths has steadily risen. In 2022, it accounted for 5% of all deaths in the country. In Canada, there has been a stay of execution until 2027, but it is proposed that people with severe mental disorders be allowed to use the Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) programme which came into force there in 2016. Since then, there has been a steady increase in the numbers of Canadians seeking MAiD – over the last six years, the increase has been running at about 30% annually. Given your correspondent’s appeal, it is interesting to note that pain is not usually the reason for choosing MAiD. They include inability to participate in meaningful activities (86.3%), loss of dignity (53.1%), feeling like a burden (35.3%) and isolation/loneliness (17.1%). What is most dismaying about Canadian practice is that many of those applying for MAiD do so not because of disease, but because of poverty. It is much easier for a disabled person in Canada to receive MAiD than to access services which would preserve their lives. (

We live in a world full of unintended consequences. One effect of ‘solving’ chronic pain, terrible death, or fearsome disability by death might be that research into other methods of dealing with the ills to which flesh is heir would wither on the vine – for example, the barbarous practice of craniotomy as a way of dealing with obstructed delivery stopped because some doctors were determined to find other means of managing obstructed delivery which did not involve directly killing the child. Once the principle that innocent human life deserves protection has been abrogated, then the unintended consequences are likely to be unspeakably horrible.

It should not be forgotten that the death camps sprang up from the concept of ‘Lebensunwertes Leben’ life unworthy of life.

Jem Geach

3 Cordier Hill Close

Cordier Hill

St Peter Port