Baroness Warnock: Dementia Sufferers May Have A ‘Duty To Die’
Elderly people suffering from dementia should consider ending their lives because they are a burden on the NHS and their families, according to the influential medical ethics expert Baroness Warnock.
The veteran Government adviser said pensioners in mental decline are “wasting people’s lives” because of the care they require and should be allowed to opt for euthanasia even if they are not in pain.
She insisted there was “nothing wrong” with people being helped to die for the sake of their loved ones or society.
The 84-year-old added that she hoped people will soon be “licensed to put others down” if they are unable to look after themselves.
Her comments in a magazine interview have been condemned as “immoral” and “barbaric”, but also sparked fears that they may find wider support because of her influence on ethical matters.
Lady Warnock, a former headmistress who went on to become Britain’s leading moral philosopher, chaired a landmark Government committee in the 1980s that established the law on fertility treatment and embryo research.
A prominent supporter of euthanasia, she has previously suggested that pensioners who do not want to become a burden on their carers should be helped to die.
Last year the Mental Capacity Act came into effect that gives legal force to “living wills”, so patients can appoint an “attorney” to tell doctors when their hospital food and water should be removed.
But in her latest interview, given to the Church of Scotland’s magazine Life and Work, Lady Warnock goes further by claiming that dementia sufferers should consider ending their lives through euthanasia because of the strain they put on their families and public services.
Recent figures show there are 700,000 people with degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s in Britain. By 2026 experts predict there will be one million dementia sufferers in the country, costing the NHS an estimated £35billion a year.
Lady Warnock said: “If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.
“I’m absolutely, fully in agreement with the argument that if pain is insufferable, then someone should be given help to die, but I feel there’s a wider argument that if somebody absolutely, desperately wants to die because they’re a burden to their family, or the state, then I think they too should be allowed to die.
“Actually I’ve just written an article called ‘A Duty to Die?’ for a Norwegian periodical. I wrote it really suggesting that there’s nothing wrong with feeling you ought to do so for the sake of others as well as yourself.”
She went on: “If you’ve an advance directive, appointing someone else to act on your behalf, if you become incapacitated, then I think there is a hope that your advocate may say that you would not wish to live in this condition so please try to help her die.
“I think that’s the way the future will go, putting it rather brutally, you’d be licensing people to put others down.”
Her comments were criticised last night by MPs, charities and campaigners.
Neil Hunt, the chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “I am shocked and amazed that Baroness Warnock could disregard the value of the lives of people with dementia so callously.
“With the right care, a person can have good quality of life very late in to dementia. To suggest that people with dementia shouldn’t be entitled to that quality of life or that they should feel that they have some sort of duty to kill themselves is nothing short of barbaric.”
Nadine Dorries, the Conservative MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, said: “I believe it is extremely irresponsible and unnerving for someone in Baroness Warnock’s position to put forward arguments in favour of euthanasia for those who suffer from dementia and other neurological illnesses.
“Because of her previous experiences and well-known standing on contentious moral issues, Baroness Warnock automatically gives moral authority to what are entirely immoral view points.”
Phyllis Bowman, executive director of the campaign group Right to Life, added: “It sends a message to dementia sufferers that certain people think they don’t count, and that they are a burden on their families. It’s a pretty uncivilised society where that is the primary consideration. I worry that she will sway people who would like to get rid of the elderly.”