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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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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.