IN the early months of Covid-19, the Scottish and UK Governments attempted to normalise the concept of state-sponsored euthanasia in the care home sector. It was only after a public outcry, borne on what we considered to be a basic sense of morality, that this approach was halted.

During this time more people died of the virus in Scotland’s care homes than in hospital. Sacrificing the lives of the elderly and the infirm was considered to be an acceptable emergency measure in the teeth of a lethal contagion.

As a means of freeing up space for the young and the fit our governments chose to discharge old people from hospital straight into care homes without first being tested for the virus. Almost overnight, these places – lacking adequate supplies of PPE and staff training – were turned into death camps. In many instances, care home staff, suspecting something sinister was happening, were ordered not to discuss their concerns.

Amnesty produced a 50-page report on similarly iniquitous attitudes in England. The report, As If Expendable: The UK Government’s Failure to Protect Older People in Care Homes during the COVID-19 Pandemic, showed that the elderly in care were effectively tossed overboard during the health crisis.

It seemed that attitudes among the UK’s political class hadn’t changed much since the Black Death in the 14th century. At the first major sign of adversity, all those hallmarks we consider to be characteristic of a modern, progressive and enlightened society simply evaporated.

Social progress; scientific expertise; constantly ground-breaking medical advances counted for nothing if you were unlucky enough to be old and not quite in full possession of your mental and physical faculties. “You know how you’ve been thinking about death quite a lot lately, Mr Smith? Well, don’t be planning too far ahead. Just sayin’, like.”

Heidi Crowter isn’t old though; she’s only 27 and is bright, articulate and bubbly. Like many other people who have Down’s syndrome, she is surrounded by people who love her and want her to live her best life. And if Heidi is anything like my niece Ciara she’ll be bringing a lot of happiness to her family and friends.

Last Friday though, Ms Crowter found that, like those vulnerable and elderly people in the early months of Covid, society doesn’t consider hers a life worth living at all. Not really. Three senior Court of Appeal judges dismissed her appeal of a High Court judgment last year in a case brought against the Department of Health and Social Care about changing the law on abortion. Specifically it challenged the legislation which allows the abortion of babies with Down’s syndrome up until birth.  

Along with Maire Lea-Wilson, the mother of Aidan, a young boy who has Down’s syndrome, Ms Crowter thinks this part of the 1990 Abortion Act is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Dismissing her appeal, the judges said that abortion laws were for Parliament to decide and that the Act did not interfere with the rights of the “living disabled”. They were wrong, and grievously so.

An investigation by The Sunday Times last year found that the number of babies born with Down’s syndrome fell by around 30% in those hospitals deploying a new pre-natal testing technique called cell-free DNA. It’s effectively another step in ensuring that, in the future, people with Down’s syndrome will no longer exist. And when this happens then the rest of us had better start looking over our shoulders.

By its most widely accepted definition, eugenics is the study of how to arrange reproduction within a human population to increase the occurrence of heritable characteristics regarded as desirable. We saw where that led in Europe 80 years ago. This sewage is now lapping at our ankles in 21st century Britain. If Down’s syndrome can be exterminated as easily as this then how do those others now counted as “the living disabled” feel today?

In the midst of an economic crisis already disproportionately hitting “the living vulnerable”, how long before the “living disabled” are considered a burden that society can no longer afford? Effectively, the UK’s two main governments considered that question in early 2020 and then acted accordingly. 

Ms Crowter said of the judges’ decision: “It makes me feel that I shouldn’t be here. That I should be extinct. I know that’s not true, but that’s how it makes me feel.” She then compared how the law views her compared with her new-born nephew: “I was flabbergasted that the law protects him and not me.”

The decision in the Heidi Crowter case also has disturbing parallels with what is being proposed in the Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults (Scotland) Bill being brought by the Liberal Democrat MSP, Liam McArthur.

In several other countries where euthanasia has been legalised all the promised safeguards rapidly evaporate so that many more vulnerable people are caught up in the vortex. Serious illness can often lead to profound psychological distress and depression, but rather than work to alleviate this with targeted treatment we point them in the direction of death. It’s the quickest and most economically effective way out, after all. 

Mr McArthur’s grievously ill-drafted bill wants to hand these poor people a gun rather than provide genuine care for them. And if this can be achieved without any proper debate about funding better psychiatric and palliative care then so much the better. A stealthy narrative is coiled around this, targeting vulnerable people and their families: that they are a financial and care drain on limited resources.

The former Labour politician, Dennis Canavan expressed these concerns much more eloquently than me. Mr Canavan lost his four children, three of them after a terminal illness.

“My children undoubtedly underwent some pain,” he said. “But it was minimised by caring health professionals. As a result, my children died in dignity and I do not accept that the option of assisted suicide is necessary to ensure dignity in death.”

Proponents of the proposed suicide legislation have spent almost a decade trying to get it over the line. A sophisticated marketing campaign and at least one suggestible national newspaper title have been pumping out propaganda to chip away at deep public unease.

You wonder what they might have achieved if they had spent as much time and energy seeking to improve palliative care for terminally ill people, rather than hurrying along their deaths.

We have a culture of death in Scotland though, where the quick-fix of legalised killing is seen as the cost-effective path of least resistance. It will always beat improving life for people with complex, end-of-life illnesses.

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