Tom Norton from Tasmania asked this question in the Financial Times recently.
He set out the paradox: the legal position seems to be:
1-year-old Charlie Gard should be allowed to die with dignity by avoiding experimental treatment that might – had there been no legal delays – have preserved his life.
67-year-old Noel Conway (facing prolonged disability, suffering and a terrible death) should not be allowed the right to die with dignity as he asks.
A reader intends to go to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland if the time approaches when she will no longer be physically or mentally able to look after herself. She will have to do so far earlier than needed and will do so alone, to avoid legal hassle for her family. The financial cost is minimal compared with nursing care fees and all the horrors of dependence.
Assisted dying is tried and tested in twelve countries
The fears expressed of undesirable consequence – usually by religious fundamentalists – are not borne out by the facts. Assisted dying in several forms is legal in many regions, including five American states, see full list here.
Daniel Finkelstein recently opened his article in The Times by saying: ”Noel Conway wants the right to decide when his life will end and most of us, including the disabled, agree with him”. And later:
“The question is who makes the choice. Am I — or Noel Conway — allowed to make it for myself or will the state make it for me?
“Noel Conway is seeking a simple right, to be allowed to die as he has lived, as a free man. He’s not asking to play God, or have anyone else play God. He’s just saying that he’d rather not suffer avoidable, and unnecessary, anguish as he dies.
“It’s a right — I’m sorry to put it like this, but it’s true — that we wouldn’t deny, that we do not deny, to a cat.
“He doesn’t want to die. He is not choosing to die. He is accepting that he is going to die, and asking for the option of medical help to assist with the means and timing of his death. I think it is unconscionable to say no to him”.
Around 80% support the idea of a change in the law
Most MPs believe that their constituents are quite evenly split on assisted dying. But in fact their constituents are not evenly split. There has been around 80% support for a change in the law for 30 years. Public opinion is consistent and clear and stable.
Polling by Populus showed 86% per cent of disabled people supported the assisted dying reform, broadly in line with the rest of the population (download available)
Advocates for disabled people fear that provision for assisted dying would demonstrate that we do not value disabled people and are not willing to protect the most vulnerable, but that, Finkelstein points out, is not the opinion of most disabled people – see ‘Disabled activists for dignity in dying’.
Religious principles make it impossible to contemplate allowing someone to end their life before it ends naturally.
As Finkelstein says: “That is a choice for them. I am seeking a choice for me. And for Noel Conway”.
The current ‘arbitrary and disturbing mess’ is a lottery, where a person who helps someone to die might know what they are doing, or might not – or who travels to Switzerland with a friend or family member might end up in jail or might not.
Instead of this, a ‘concrete legal and medical procedure’ is sought to permit assisted dying, with careful consideration and legally clear deliberation of the evidence of the various models working well in other countries.
As the media is reporting the case of a couple described by their son as being ‘fiercely independent’ in which the wife begged her husband to kill her, with appalling consequences, we publish the reflections of a reader whose terminally husband begged her and her son to end his life. She writes:
People in incurable pain or dependent on others to clean, dress and feed them should be given the option of a medically supervised peaceful end in the company of those who care for them – without the journey to merciful Switzerland.
Is this the way YOU want to live?
I asked a young friend who would advocate depriving people of a planned and peaceful departure – apart from a religious minority who should not decide the conduct of others with different beliefs; after a moment’s thought he replied that the vast and growing number of corporations (some listed below) setting up and running care homes and other nursing establishments would be deprived of many years’ income from the patients’ savings and property.
Will we get a more caring government which puts the welfare of human beings before that of the privatised healthcare lobby or will Britain continue to be ruled by multinational interest?
And before anyone writes in about the possible dangers it should be noted that this merciful option – assisted dying – is working well in seven countries and six American states – see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assisted_suicide#Legality_by_country.
Pretoria judge approves the right to die with dignity, legally exercised in some American states, Switzerland, Denmark, Holland and Belgium
Breaching the evangelical Christian consensus, former archbishop, Lord Carey, and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu have declared themselves to be in favour of assisted dying for the terminally ill and those in a situation of intractable, unbearable suffering.
In April this year, Judge Hans Fabricius of the Pretoria High Court found that terminally ill Robin Stransham-Ford (left) – who had approached the court to allow him to commit assisted suicide – had a constitutionally protected right to die with dignity. He ruled that a doctor could give the 65-year-old a lethal injection, saying:
“The medical doctor who accedes to the request of the applicant will not be acting unlawfully and therefore shall not be subject to prosecution”.
Robin Stransham-Ford (right) a member of the active Dignity SA, had lived his professional and athletic life to the full. Educated at Stonyhurst, he took a law degree at University College London, becoming a member of the Black Lawyers Association and Advocates for Transformation in South Africa. Lawyer, accountant, tax practitioner and a Chief Executive of a group of reinsurance brokers at Lloyds in the City of London, he served as a wartime commissioned army officer and completed the world’s longest triathlon from London to Paris and the world’s longest non-stop canoe race from Devizes to Westminster.
He had been suffering from prostate cancer and died of natural causes on the same day that the court granted him the right to end his life.
Will British sufferers ever have the opportunities available in some American states, Switzerland, Denmark, Holland and Belgium?
An email correspondent, with whom the writer shared support for assisted dying and Scottish independence, died today. Read her obituary in the Scotsman – avoid the grudging and mean-spirited text in the Telegraph.
The best tribute is to make sure her thoughts are kept alive. Here are a few sent by email in 2008:
In talking about the end of life, let’s start at the beginning … I don’t support euthanasia. I do support having the best-possible palliative care, whether at home, in a hospice, or any other place a terminally ill person wishes to be when life ends.
But I also support the right of terminally-ill people to end their lives should they become unbearable, and to be able to obtain assistance to do this legally. That’s why I attended the debate, initiated by the Lib Dem MSP Jeremy Purvis, on assisted suicide. I intended to show support for his persistence and to listen and learn.
A few years ago, a UK newspaper published an opinion survey showing a very high percentage of its readers to be in favour of the principles enshrined in Jeremy’s motion. Only one correspondent has expressed opposition to my stance.
The effectiveness of palliative care varies from patient to patient, and unfortunately for some, offers minimal relief. It’s amongst this group that the wish to have a choice of assisted dying is of real interest.
I’m lucky, my Parkinson’s is mild, and in the thirteen or so years since it was diagnosed, I’ve worked normally and exercised regularly. But my luck might not hold up and my condition may degenerate more severely than the present prognosis. In that circumstance, I’d like to be able to count on obtaining assistance without asking anyone to commit a crime in helping me to die.
Having a legal right is not the same as being obliged to act on that right. It’s quite possible that knowing I can legally be assisted to die, if I choose to truncate any prolonged period of severe impairment, might be enough to make the situation bearable.
The people who’ve contacted me face up to what the BMA won’t … that for some terminally ill people a dignified, peaceful end to life cannot be brought about by drugs or even the most sensitive care.
Though some form of assisted dying and/or euthanasia is legal in Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Columbia, Oregon, Washington and Montana, and tragic cases in Britain continue to be reported, progress towards a more civilised Britain is appallingly slow.
Patricia Bell was the county archivist of Bedfordshire between 1968 and 1986 and edited the Bedfordshire Historical Record Society’s publications between 1977 and 1991.
The Mail reports that, after making two previous suicide attempts, Ms Bell, who was suffering ‘a great deal of pain’ from breast cancer and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2011, was found dead in a pond. At the inquest evidence was given that she had begun to worry that she might ‘end up in a home’.
In an official obituary published in the Guardian, Ms Bell’s close friend Richard Wildman said: ‘Her greatest fear was that she would emulate some of her cousins and live to an extreme and uncomfortable old age’.
A good servant of the state?
Was it an attempt to maintain the status quo that made deputy coroner Bob Amos record an open verdict, despite reading the letters from friends and hearing the words from her carer about her attempts to take her own life?
Parliament should take long overdue action and set aside the need of the powerful ‘health/care’ industry for clients and the Christian right’s desire to impose religious inhibitions on the majority who do not share them – then legislate for well-regulated assisted dying for those who want and need it.
Is it the government’s desire to control its citizens, the hand of religion, or the vested interest of a set of multi-million industries ‘caring’ for the terminally dependent or dying?
A memo from author Terry Pratchett in the Huffington Post, UK on the guidelines from the Director of Public Prosecutions puts a finger on the danger of a spouse or family friend assisting somebody to die, even if they clearly acted out of compassion and love.
It is the fact that when ‘amateurs’ try to help other amateurs to die, the results he has seen in his life as a journalist were often ‘traumatic to the extent of making hardened police officers vomit’.
He points out that, ‘as a society, we seem to be quite kind even to serious offenders’, but censorious of those with a ‘debilitating and unforgiving’ disease who wish to end such a life.
Is this due to the the ‘dark hand’ of ‘a religion that subconsciously regards illness as a sin requiring atonement’ as he surmises, or is it really a control issue? He ends:
“In fact, the government of the welfare state is not very happy about citizens who take total responsibility for themselves rather than hanging from the teat of the welfare state; apparently such people must be punished.”
– Or are there friendly corporate interests at stake?
To read the article click here.
Follow Sir Terry Pratchett on Twitter: www.twitter.com/terryandrob
The late Geraldine McClelland, a former producer of the BBC’s consumer affairs programme Watchdog, calls for a change to British law
Geraldine McClelland, a former producer of the BBC’s consumer affairs programme Watchdog who was suffering from the final stages of lung and liver cancer, has died at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, with her brother and sister at her bedside.
In a letter released hours after her death, she called for for a change to British law to allow assisted suicide for the terminally ill:
“I am angry that because of the cowardice of our politicians I can’t die in the country I was born in, in my own home.”
Are vested interests blocking legislation?
The private health lobby figured prominently in the last Conservative party conference: health insurers, health advisers, consultants, pharmaceutical manufacturers, bankers financing them, and even specialists in ‘cosmetic anti-aging treatments’. Care organisations, whether relating to care in the home or residential establishments, are a growth industry with a vested interest in keeping clients with them, regardless of indignity and pain.
In the open letter, published in accordance with her wishes, Geraldine McClelland said: ‘I have chosen to travel abroad to die because I cannot have the death I want here in the UK . . . at home, with my family and friends around me”.
In a harrowing video on Sky News, Geraldine suggested a change in the law for those who could not afford the clinic’s fees and travel costs or who were unfit to make the journey. She said that the same procedure could be followed as that now practised when abortion was sought: the safeguard of a second medical opinion.
Why doesn’t the British government follow the civilised example of Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Oregon, Washington and Montana?
Critics – many of them fundamentalist Christians – have mounted well–financed campaigns instilling the fear that legalisation here would put the elderly, sick and disabled at greater risk. This, despite evidence to the contrary from Oregon, Holland and other areas where assisted dying has been legal for many years.