What are your views? Are there different issues for people with disabilities?
Many people in the UK advocate a change in the law on assisted dying. They believe that, subject to strict upfront safeguards, the law should allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults to request life-ending medication from a doctor. The dying patient would then have the choice to self-administer that medication at a time that was right for them.
It is believed that the change in the law on assisted dying would not lead to more deaths, rather it would lead to less suffering for those dying people who want the choice to control how and when they die.
This change is reflected in Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill which had its First Reading in the upper house of the UK parliament, the House of Lords on 5 June 2014. The principles of the Bill will be debated, and possibility voted on, for the first time when the Bill receives its Second Reading on Friday 18 July.
A recent YouGov poll found 73% of adults in England and Wales support the proposals in this Bill.
Summary of the Assisted Dying Bill
The Assisted Dying Bill is a specific, focused piece of legislation based on a recognition – repeatedly expressed by the courts – that the issue is one for Parliament to address. A change in the law that every opinion poll has shown is supported by an overwhelming majority of the public.
You can view the Bill in full and track its progress on Parliament’s website here.
If enacted it would:
• Result in fewer dying adults – and their families – facing unnecessary suffering at the end of their lives, subject to strict upfront safeguards, as assessed by two doctors.
• Bring clarity to an area of the law that is currently opaque and thereby provide safety and security for the terminally ill and for medical professionals.
• Neither legalise voluntary euthanasia, where a doctor directly administers life-ending medication nor act as a slippery slope to do so.
• Protects anyone who doesn’t have a terminal illness, including elderly and disabled people, by not in any way affecting the law that makes it a criminal offence to assist ending their lives.
• Above all it will give dying adults peace of mind that the choice of assisted dying is available if their suffering becomes too great for them in their final months of life.
• Without a change in the law, terminally ill patients will continue to take decisions without adequate safeguards, whether by travelling to Dignitas, in Switzerland, to die, ending their lives themselves or being illegally helped to die by doctors.
Impact of the Assisted Dying Bill
The Bill draws on the experience of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. This law has been in force for 17 years and has enabled a small number of people who were terminally ill to request the choice of an assisted death. In practice only a very small number of patients have an assisted death – less than 80 in total in 2013 out of the annual 30,000 deaths in Oregon. There has been no evidence of abuse since its inception.
The Assisted Dying Bill would:
• Provide safeguarded choice and control to terminally ill adults and prevent prolonged suffering among these dying adults who want to have choice over how and when they die.
• Ensure that terminally ill adults who have assistance to die do so having met clear pre-determined criteria and have explored all their alternatives; rather than as at present, in secret, when checks are only made after someone dies (as set out in the prosecuting policy on assisted suicide).
The Assisted Dying Bill would not:
• Legalise assisted suicide for people who are not dying (for example disabled people or older people).
• Legalise voluntary euthanasia where a doctor administers the life-ending medication. Under the Assisted Dying Bill the person choosing an assistance to die would self-administer the prescribed life-ending medication.
• Legalise a system where the person being directly helped to die is no longer competent to make that choice for themselves. This Assisted Dying Bill would only apply to adults with mental capacity both at the time of their request and at the time of their death.