By Hilary White

LONDON, October 27, 2010 ( – Unlike gold and platinum, life does not have value in itself, a member of the House of Lords and a campaigner for assisted suicide said in a televised debate last week. Medical professionals need to change their attitude towards assisted suicide, to take into account the wishes of patients who request to die, said Baroness Mary Warnock, known in Britain as the “philosopher queen” of bioethics.

“There is no moral justification why the opinions of judges, lawyers and doctors should override those of the patient [who has expressed a wish to die],” she said.

“The mission of doctors is to help people, to make their lives better not worse. Sometime death is more desirable than life.”

Mary Warnock is known as Britain’s leading bioethicist and proponent of assisted suicide. She recently commented that the refusal of doctors to participate in assisted suicide is “genuinely wicked.” Her books include “Easeful Death: Is there a case for assisted dying?” and “Making Babies: Is there a right to have children?”

Warnock said that to examine the issue from the law alone was legalistic and trivialised the issue: “behind the law is a moral judgment,” she said.

Those who argued along with Warnock for the motion of the debate, “Assisted Suicide should be legalised: the terminally-ill should have the legal right to be helped to end their lives,” included Emily Jackson, professor of law at the London School of Economics and Debbie Purdy, the well-known assisted suicide campaigner with multiple sclerosis. The debate was organised by the debating society, Intelligence Squared, which stages debates on topics of public interest around the world.

During the debate, Prof. Emily Jackson cited research from the American state of Oregon, and the Netherlands, arguing that patients asking for assisted suicide do so because of a “loss of autonomy, a loss of dignity, or a loss of the joys of life.” She said that it is up to the patient to decide.

Jackson did not mention recent studies showing that in Belgium, where euthanasia is legal, as many as 30 per cent of those killed by doctors did not give consent.

Jackson’s assertions were challenged by Lord Alex Carlile QC, a barrister and Liberal Democrat peer, who noted that the law and practice in the Netherlands and Belgium had yet to stand up to a court challenge. He pointed out that with legalised assisted suicide, physicians would be allowed to act as judges, and said that there is no “acceptable way” to legislate for assisted dying.

Carlile, joint chair of Living and Dying Well, said that there is no reason to trust “self-selected death judges” and doctors any more than people of any other profession or job. He cited the European Convention on Human Rights, saying that under that agreement, it is only acceptable to take human life in self defence or in war. According to legal definitions in the Convention, assisted suicide constitutes homicide.

Called “a leading philosopher,” Mary Baroness Warnock was created a life peer in 1985. She was a key figure in the creation of Britain’s current law on artificial procreation, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill. She was a member of the House of Lords Select Committee on Euthanasia and forms part of a powerful political faction that continues to press for legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia.