15 MARCH 1975, Page 5


From Dr S. L. Henderson-Smith

Sir: Many may think C. M. Fou's weighty diatribe (March 1) is enough to quell the arguments for voluntary euthanasia once and for all. A little reflection will show the fallacy of the 'wedge argument' on which he relies. Because a lunatic has used a box of matches to burn down a house, does that mean we must none of us use matches again? Because someone has used a medical syringe for murder, does that preclude a doctor from giving his patient any injection with a similar instrument? Because the Nazis practised genocide must modern sufferers from painful incurable conditions be condemned to endure unwanted life with never a hope of a change in the law? If so this is to give the Nazis an unasked-for bonus of evil effect indeed.

It is all a matter of control by the law and individual conscience of what is admittedly a delicate and potentially dangerous area of human action. People submit themselves daily to surgery even though they know surgeons have occasionally been made use of by unscrupulous politicalmasters. If the medical profession can be trusted not to abuse the enormous powers of modern surgery is it any less to be trusted in regard to the practice of euthanasia at the behest of the patient?

Social advance almost invariably goes through the stages of violent opposition, exaggerated fear of abuse followed by gradual acceptance with wondering relief at the benefits which have resulted and incredulity that things could ever have been otherwise. We have seen this progression in regard to contraception and liberalised abortion. It is tithe voluntary euthanasia were added to the list. Does our security as individuals really have to depend on being cruel to the unfortunate victims of cancer who want society to help them to die?

S. L. Henderson Smith Portland House, Lindley, Huddersfield