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Change the laws on Assisted Dying in England and Wales

There have been years of positive evidence in seven countries and six American states which legalised assisted dying or euthanasia. Despite this and the support of over 80% of people polled in Britain, the BBC reports that Lord Justice Sales, Mrs Justice Whipple and Mr Justice Garnham rejected the claim of Noel Conway (left) who has motor neurone disease and wants a doctor to be allowed to prescribe a lethal dose when his health deteriorates.

 He argued that when he had less than six months to live and retained the mental capacity to make the decision, he wished to be able to enlist assistance from the medical profession to bring about a “peaceful and dignified” death, saying goodbye to family and friends at the right time and in the right condition.

As Saimo Chahal QC, partner and joint head of the International law and public law & Human Rights departments of Bindmans LLP, recently wrote, the debate on legalising assisted dying has been going on for decades in the UK, though polls dating back to the 1970s show that a majority of Britons wish to decide on the time and manner of their own death.

Noel and several others have gone to court hoping to bring about a change in the law. Diane Pretty, a woman suffering from motor neurone disease, sought immunity from prosecution for her husband so he could assist her to die.

The European Court of Human Rights in 2002 found: “In an era of growing medical sophistication combined with longer life expectancies, many people are concerned that they should not be forced to linger on in old age or in states of advanced physical or mental decrepitude which conflict with strongly held ideas of self and personal identity.”

Debbie Purdy, Tony Nicklinson and Paul Lamb also took legal action. The Supreme Court in June 2014 found that their European Convention on Human Rights article 8 rights were engaged, that the court did have jurisdiction to decide Paul’s case but that parliament should have the opportunity to review the law first. Ms Chahal (right) continues:

“Now, a new case is before the High Court, that of Omid, a 54-year-old man, who was diagnosed with multiple systems atrophy in 2014, a condition that cannot be cured and affects the nervous system. He attempted suicide in 2015, failed like so many others, and was then moved to a nursing home. Even with 24-hour care and support, Omid wants to die as he feels that he has no quality of life. Omid wants to change the assisted dying law in England and Wales – a courageous and selfless act considering his condition. He wants to help others and to leave a legacy. . .

“Omid is not terminally ill but has several years to live in this deplorable condition. Previous failed attempts to change the assisted dying laws through parliament restricted access to assisted dying to terminally ill people with six months or less to live. There is no moral or legal basis for such a restriction and it would not assist Omid and many others like him who have incurable conditions.

Since 2002, 377 Britons have travelled to DIGNITAS in Switzerland to have an accompanied suicide. Many people in England and Wales consider that the law is unfair and unjust in failing to provide accompanied suicide at home.

Read the article by Saimo Chahal here.

 

 

 

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At what age does the legal position on dying with dignity change?

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.

 

 

 

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Assisted dying: most British politicians and some religious and financial interests are not respecting public opinion which is overwhelmingly in favour

dignitas cartoon

On this site last year a Pretoria judge’s approval of the right to die with dignity was recorded.

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.

Journalist Katharine Whitehorn visited Oregon in 2008, one of the places in which assisted dying is legal – some American states, Switzerland, Denmark, Holland and Belgium. She points out that far from the sad, the poor and the unwanted being ‘shuffled off into the hereafter’, it is mostly the strong-minded and competent who choose assisted dying, for more than one reason:

  • intractable pain,
  • increasing disability,
  • collapse of normal bodily functions, or
  • loss of dignity as others clean and feed them.

cambridge assisted dying video

Some readers might want to see the video of the Cambridge Union Society’s debate in January 2014. The proposition was ‘This House Would Legalise ‘Assisted Dying’. The speakers in favour of freedom of choice in “last matters” won the debate by a clear 207 to 67 votes (with 54 abstaining). When will UK politicians listen?

It was good to read that one of several good policies presented by the new Canadian premier, Justin Trudeau, is support for assisted dying:

assisted dying trudeau“The high court struck down the prohibition on doctor-assisted dying last February and gave the federal government a year to come up with a new law recognizing the right of clearly consenting adults who are enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering to seek medical help in ending their lives”.

Quebec already has its own law, which came into effect Dec. 10. Since then, one patient in Quebec City’s university health-care network has received a doctor-assisted death.

dignitas logoDuring the last 14 years, over 300 Britons have travelled to Dignitas in Switzerland for a professional, medically supported and accompanied suicide.

These people would rather have had the choice of a self-determined end of suffering and life at home.

The law in the UK needs to change. Dignitas supports the campaign and new court case to change the law in England & Wales. Though public opinion is overwhelmingly in favour (see Panorama poll below) as past votes in the Lords and the Commons have shown, a majority of politicians and some religious and financial interests are not respecting public opinion.

dignitas panorama pollFurther court cases are needed to bring about change.

Solicitor and Partner Saimo Chahal, of London Law firm Bindmans, alerts readers to the fact that there is a legal campaign to change the law in England & Wales, started by Elaine Spector and two further individuals, who wish to remain anonymous – V and J.

Saimo Chahal previously acted for Debbie Purdy, Tony and Jane Nicklinson and Paul Lamb.

Many will echo the wish of the Dignitas team: “May we all live to see freedom of choice and human dignity in life and at life’s end in England & Wales and around the world”.


If you are interested in joining the legal campaign please will you email Saimo Chahal on s.chahal@bindmans.com.

 

 

How long will government allow private health industry vultures and religious fundamentalists to prevail?

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“He did not have a good death”: these reticent words from a grieving widow were all that she felt able to say of the prolonged intense emotional and physical suffering her husband endured before his death. She added, “I have joined Dignity in Dying”. Another acquaintance last week told the writer that her father, in similar circumstances, had asked for strychnine to be procured for him.

A condition not included in the demands of this organisation but recognised by medics and Dignitas as terminal, is dementia. Dementia is not just an enhanced state of memory loss – an inconvenience – but can adversely affect the whole personality. One who shared care of a formerly bright and independent relative with this condition for two years had to contend with extreme physical aggression, incontinence and refusal to wash.

cambridge assisted dying videoVideo of Cambridge assisted dying debate – link below

It is the core goal of Dignitas that one day nobody in the UK or any other country needs to travel to Switzerland for a self-determined end of suffering and life anymore.

People who would opt for assisted dying when diagnosed with dementia, and who have made the declaration whilst still in good health, should be given every facility in their region. For years Scandinavian countries have had a range of acceptable provision and a few American states. Only Switzerland kindly offers this facility to foreigners. As respected journalist Simon Jenkins notes, an average of twenty people a month kill themselves ‘surreptitiously’ at home and two terminally ill people a month go to Switzerland to end their lives.

At the moment the medical and care industries – a powerful parliamentary lobby – have a vested interest in prolonging the unhappy lives of such people, profiting by payments from their families and the state.

The human right to control the circumstances of one’s own death was asserted by Dr Atul Gawande in a recent Reith lecture.

debbie purdySimon Jenkins wrote that right-to-die campaigner, Debbie Purdy’s life and death by self-starvation – forced on her by parliament – should be celebrated by the Commons passing the House of Lords’ “dignity in dying” bill forthwith.

As he continues: an overwhelming majority of the public – 60-70% – wants it. The weight of legal and ethical opinion wants it. Eighty of the great and good writing to the Daily Telegraph at the weekend want it. Objection, he adds, is largely confined to religious prejudice and medical authoritarianism.

Simon Jenkins concludes that Debbie Purdy’s husband thanked the Marie Curie hospice in Bradford for helping his wife through the awful experience of self-starvation forced on her by parliament:

“How much better if he were now able to thank parliament for relieving others of having to face the same ordeal”.

 

Further reading:

Bad decision by government – 25: legislation forcing people to travel abroad in order to have a peaceful death

One of the ‘GenerationNext’ with great potential – Coventry University student Kate Green – has been doing some research for a presentation on how we should have right to end our own lives through assisted suicide when suffering with a degenerative disease.

One finding we repeat: Dignitas’ stated aim is that no one should be forced to travel abroad in order to have the simple basic human right of a peaceful death. Read more here. 

When Silvan Luley of Dignitas read about multiple sclerosis sufferer Carol Hutchins, who threw herself into a canal and drowned because she could not afford to travel to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to end her life, he wrote to PCU: “What a sad story! What a disgrace for the UK legal system and politicians!” 

Misleading media coverage 

He pointed out that the “Mail Online” – and some other papers – call Dignitas a “clinic” whereas in fact it is a small help-to-live and right-to-die non-profit NGO. 

Such reporting misleads the public as it evokes ideas of a hospital or hospice with wards, doctors and nurses and has led to people actually turning up without prior notice because they believed the nonsense of the “Dignitas euthanasia clinic” – some of them in quite deplorable state of health. They have had to be sent back home right away, as there is a preparation procedure to follow which takes some time  – distressing for them and for Dignitas. 

Another mistake by the Mail Online was to show a picture of 5-storey building stating under the picture: “Controversial: The Dignitas clinic in Switzerland” but that building does not belong to Dignitas. 

 

The Dignitas building

Better media coverage

Here is a link to Terry Pratchett’s BBC documentary – a good programme in which many were able to see part of the doctor’s consultations, the  procedure followed and the Dignitas building, though of course it did not show much of the lengthy preparation which includes registering as a member, obtaining medical reports and sending a formal request to be assessed.

Mr Luley comments:” We have already written to numerous newspapers about this problem but they mostly seem to be too dumb to take responsibility for the rubbish that they print….”. He concludes: 

Still, the story is heartbreaking and it puts its finger on a severe problem: the problem that people who want to have a dignified self-determined end in life need to travel abroad. No one should be forced to travel abroad in order to have the simple basic human right of a peaceful death! Everyone should have this right at his/her very home, to pass away peacefully in their own bed, surrounded by loved ones.

 

NOTE:   Dignitas’ submission to Lord Falconer’s Commission on Assisted Dying is well worth reading as it presents their approach and philosophy.

Is the private health lobby blocking legislation which has public support?

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.  

Though polls show up to 80% public support  for assisted dying, it is a strange that a legislative body which readily allows many healthy – but inconvenient – babies to die – will not agree to give the dying a peaceful end.