By Martin Beckford Social Affairs Correspondent
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.”
By Luke Salkeld and Ryan Kisiel
Mr Duff, 80, and his wife, who was 70, had told friends they were moving out of their £2million Georgian house in Bath to a second home in the country.
But instead they travelled to a euthanasia clinic run by Dignitas, where they died last Friday.
Director of Public Prosecutions last year that it was ‘not in the public interest’ to charge the parents of Daniel James, 23, who helped him commit suicide at Dignitas after he was paralysed from the waist down in a rugby accident.
Jo Cartwright, spokesman for Dying in Dignity, said it was ‘very unlikely’ there would be any inquest or official investigation. ‘The rules in Switzerland mean the bodies of Dignitas clients are cremated and that makes carrying out an inquest difficult.’
Mr and Mrs Duff are believed to be the second British couple to have ended their lives in a Dignitas clinic. Robert Stokes, a 59-year-old epileptic, and his wife Jennifer, 53, who had diabetes and back problems, are believed to have been depressed but not terminally ill in 2003.
Shirley Parker, 75, who knew Peter and Penny Duff during their time in Dorset, described them today as a ‘vibrant and energetic’ couple.
She said: ‘[…] If they thought they were going to put their children and grandchildren through a long stressful death they would have just wanted to get on with it.’
British police confirmed that they would not be investigating the deaths of Peter and Penny Duff, who had both been suffering from terminal cancer.
It is understood [Prince] Charles sent condolences to the Duffs’ daughter Helena Conibear, 41, and her husband Simon, who works at the Prince’s ‘model village’ Poundbury.
A councillor has been suspended from the Conservative Party after suggesting euthanasia as a way to cut the cost of caring for vulnerable children.
The Labour councillor said: “In public life you can’t make these statements. Whether he says it was humour or whatever […]”