Assisted dying: our right to die...or is it?

April 24, 2018, 1:29 p.m.

We live our lives in a state of choice; we choose what we wear, what we eat, what we do and who we do it with; what we say, how we feel and how we react. The choices we make define us. But there are some things in life we don’t get to choose.

Every minute in the UK someone dies, some of whom have been living with a terminal illness. Death happens to us all, but when and how, well, that’s not our choice. But there are people, companies and countries that think it should be.

“Assisted dying allows a dying person the choice to control their death if they decide their suffering is unbearable.” - Dignity in Dying, 2017

What is assisted dying?

Assisted dying is the act of helping someone to end their lives when they are suffering from a terminal illness, often through the means of a lethal drug overdose. It is the US and UK’s adopted term for assisted suicide. Euthanasia is intervention taken by a doctor to end a patient’s life and relieve their suffering, often in the form of a lethal injection administered by the doctor. Both Euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal in the UK, with a bill to legalise the practice being rejected by parliament in 2015.

There are a handful of places in the world where forms* of assisted dying are legal:

  • Canada
  • Six US states: California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, Hawaii, Washington and Washington DC
  • Switzerland
  • Netherlands
  • Belgium
  • Luxembourg
  • Taiwan

Of these, Switzerland was the first to pioneer the law to allow people to travel from other countries for assisted dying. At present nearly 350 Britons have chosen Dignitas, a Swiss company to help them end their lives.

The costs of assisted dying

Costing over £10,000, assisted dying is neither a cheap nor simple option. There’s also the matter of putting people through an arduous journey at a time of extreme illness. On top of this, family or friends who choose to accompany their loved ones face up to 14 years’ imprisonment upon their return to the UK.

Why isn’t assisted dying legal in the UK?

According to ‘Dignity in Dying’ 82% of the UK’s population support the choice of assisted dying for terminally ill adults. Which begs the question - why was the bill to legalise the practice rejected?

The group ‘No to Assisted Suicide’ believe that if the practice is legalised wrongful deaths will occur, with 59% of people who died under the legislation in Washington identifying that they felt they were a burden on their friends, family and caregivers.

However, what they fail to also include on their website is that the same report shows that 89% of the patients were concerned about losing their autonomy and 94% were worried about being less able to engage in activities that make life enjoyable. My point? One statistic cannot stand alone, especially when used in a debate of life and death.

So what did our MP’s think? Some of the most prominent arguments centred around the negative impact assisted dying would have on people. "The right to die can so easily become the duty to die. We are here to protect the most vulnerable in our society, not to legislate to kill them. This bill is not merely flawed, it is legally and ethically totally unacceptable."

With 74% of our MP’s rejecting the bill it’s not likely to be challenged in parliament in the near future.

If the public is in favour and the government against is it something we should just accept?

Who can choose assisted dying?

One of the biggest questions around assisted dying is where and how we draw the line. The Netherlands was one of the first countries to pioneer the movement, legalising euthanasia in 2002. But since then they have been critiqued on where and how the practice operates.

Originally it was stated that only patients suffering unbearable pain with no hope for a cure should be allowed the service, since then this has grown to include not only those with a terminal illness but also those with dementia and mental illnesses.

And in October 2016 the Dutch health and justice ministers sent a letter proposing for a further change to the law; those who “have a well-considered opinion that their life is complete, must, under strict and careful criteria, be allowed to finish that life in a manner dignified for them.”

Is there a line? At what point do we stop pushing for more? Or is enough never enough, in a world where we all have our own views, opinions and emotions how do we dictate each other’s choices?

Where do you stand? Would you support the choice of a friend or loved one if they felt assisted dying was their only choice? What if it was you, would you want the right to decide how and when you die? Join the conversation on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

*These range from euthanasia and assisted suicide to do not resuscitate and treatment refusal.

Our trip to Garden House Hospice
If you’d asked me a few years ago what the difference between a hospice, a care home and a hospital was I may have been able to state some rudimentary points but in truth they all swirled together in ...
Hospices, hospitals and care homes - what’s the difference?
Hospices, hospitals and care homes are full of hard-working people caring for people who are ill, elderly or both! We discovered there’s actually quite a few differences between hospices, hospitals...
How to talk about dying
On the 19th of October The Royal College of Physicians released a report on how doctors can approach conversations about dying, what families want from these conversations and the steps we can take to...