Parliament recently rejected a bill which would give the terminally ill the right to end their lives at a time of their choosing. Such a decision shows a lack of care for the terminally ill and those in pain who wish to end their own lives, who will either remain in agony or travel abroad to die with the help of their families and risk the implications for all others involved.
You may think that MPs were right to reject the bill, that it was a sensible decision to make in the face of a ‘slippery slope‘ that could lead to too many difficult decisions for medical professionals, and risk the manipulation and exploitation of the vulnerable for profit and personal gain. Such worries are besides the point – the real issue is that we deny those who wish to end thier lives a basic human right, a peaceful and painless death.
The extent to which Britain is behind the curve on assisted dying beggars belief. Switzerland (where the Dignitas clinic is located) is unique in the world in permitting anyone assisted suicide as long as they have an active responsibility in the taking of the drug used. The Swiss government only prohibit suicide in cases where the motive is clearly selfishness, such as personal gain. Other countries where assisted suicide has been legalised to a greater or lesser degree are Switzerland, Germany, Japan, and Albania as well as the US states of Washington, Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico and Montana.
Research has shown a clear demand for the permission of some form of assisted suicide in this country. Figures shared with The Observer by assisted suicide campaign group Dignity in Dying reveal that in August 2015 292 Britons had gone to the Dignitas clinic to end their lives since 2002. While this is not a large number, it clearly shows a demand for assisted suicide. The issue has become more prominent as campaigners such as locked-in syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson and author Terry Pratchett (a long term Alzheimer’s sufferer) have attracted public attention and support.
Pratchett is perhaps one of the most well known campaigners for assisted dying. The author had repeatedly stated his desire to die at a time and place of his choosing and repeatedly questioned the idea of the sanctity of life, which is used by some religious believers as an argument against Euthanasia and Assisted Dying. in a TV documentary on the subject, Choosing To Die, he expressed his wish to be able to ‘shake hands with death’ rather than being forced to spend months or years in ‘death’s waiting room’. Another campaigner, locked-in syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson turned to hunger strike when his legal challenge to grant him legal permission to commit assisted suicide was refused and the decision was left to parliament. He described his life as a ‘living nightmare’ .
It is this lack of acknowledgement of how some people feel about living in such a state that is perhaps the most worrying aspect of our current legal standpoint on the issue. While it is true that not everyone who is terminally ill will wish to end their lives, the lack of relativism in the current legislation to accommodate the wishes of those who do, shows an lack of respect and compassion for these people, meaning that completely outlawing assisted dying will never be the most compassionate approach.