The right to die: compassion or slippery slope?

On Friday, a debate will take place over Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill. Supporters of assisted dying are hopeful as the former archbishop, Lord Carey, recently said in the Daily Mail that he had changed his mind on the issue of euthanasia.

To allow assisted dying is the right choice to make, as it prevents needless suffering. I do not believe it is right that someone should be forced to endure terrible pain if they have expressed the desire to die. For example, Terry Pratchett, who announced he was suffering with Alzheimer’s in 2007, has affirmed that he wishes to die when he is no longer able to write. Why should he not be able to do so before he loses what he must regard, in many ways, as the essence of his existence?

There are groups who argue that those suffering from a terminal illness may feel forced into taking their own life; perhaps because they believe they are a burden to their family, or as a result of carers or family members encouraging them in order to profit from inheritance.

However, Lord Falconer’s Bill does include safeguards. It states that the person must have been diagnosed with “an inevitably progressive condition which cannot be reversed by treatment”, and that they must be expected to die within six months. Both of these conditions must be confirmed by two doctors. This then avoids the situation at DIGNITAS in Switzerland, which many, including myself, object to; where 21 per cent of people who die there do not have a terminal illness but a “weariness of life”.

Furthermore, the bill ensures that it is entirely the patient’s choice, as they must assert that they wish to die and must take the medication themselves, whilst the assisting health professional is required to remain with the patient until they die or decide against taking the medicine. Therefore, this prevents the medication being applied to the wrong person or being forced upon someone.

Even with these safeguards, many would still be concerned. However, at DIGNITAS 70 per cent of people who are accepted for euthanasia ultimately decide not to come back and take their life, highlighting that people do not appear to be pressured into assisted dying and carefully consider such an option.

In many ways, assisted dying already exists in the UK. It can be argued that euthanasia is often carried out in terms of cancer treatment, as morphine is used to relieve pain and if the doctor feels it is appropriate to administer a potentially lethal dose to combat pain they may do so, as the intention was not to kill. Similarly, the turning off of a life-support machine can be regarded as an assisted death. Therefore, would it not be better to legalise a form of euthanasia in which the patient can give their consent to die painlessly?

Ultimately, legalising assisted dying is democratic in two respects. Firstly, it offers an additional choice for terminally ill people. A peaceful death, surrounded by friends and family is preferable to suicide; which is currently the only option for those unable to travel to Switzerland. This has devastating consequences, both for the family and for anyone unfortunate enough to witness the suicide itself. Aside from this, the British Social Attitudes Survey recently found that 81 per cent of the British public support it. We are supposed to live in a democracy, therefore, legislation should be passed which the majority of the public desire. Surely it is time to give people the option to end their life in the manner that they wish; a death with less pain, suffering and loss of dignity.

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