Watching someone you love grow old is a confusing experience. When they have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, you actually start the grieving process while they are still alive. Every day they are a little more translucent, a little less who they used to be. You grab the fragments of a personality you still recognize as, piece by piece, it glides into another realm.
My step-grandfather had Alzheimer’s disease and my 92-year-old grandmother has dementia. Similar case studies are at the forefront of the debate on assisted dying. Under a new UK assisted dying bill, dementia patients would not be able to sanction their own deaths due to their cognitive impairment. But passing the bill would help other sane people take that final step. We know some would choose this, as many circumvent existing law. In 2019, 42 Britons traveled to Dignitas in Switzerland to end their lives, at an average cost of £ 10,000. That works out to one person about every eight or nine days.
The act of suicide was decriminalized in England and Wales by the government of Harold MacMillan in 1961. Yet by creating an offense of “aiding, aiding or abetting suicide”, the same law made it illegal to commit suicide. helping a person to do something which, if they were to do it themselves, would not be a crime. Today, those who help a terminally ill loved one risk their life up to 14 years in prison.
A bill introduced in the House of Lords by Baroness Meacher, chair of the Dignity in Dying campaign group, seeks to change that. If successful, the bill would allow those “whose suffering is beyond the reach of palliative care to die well and on their own terms, if they choose.”
The bill would bring the law into line with public opinion, which overwhelmingly supports assisted dying. According to a YouGov survey Taken in August last year, three-quarters of Britons believe the law should allow physician-assisted suicide for patients with terminal illness. Party affiliation does not matter: 74% of Conservative voters and 76% of Labor voters support a change in the law. YouGov’s head of data journalism described physician-assisted dying as “the most bipartisan point of view in the country.”
Still, Baroness Meacher’s bill – as in previous similar attempts – is likely to fail. It was adopted without opposition on October 22, 2021 after its second reading to the Lords. Yet like Lord Falconer, architect of a 2014 bill on assisted dying, writing, “The bill will die … choked by obstructive amendments.” So far there have been 200 such peer-reviewed amendments with – as Lord Falconer put it – “long-standing and deeply rooted objections” to assisted dying. The government also appears reluctant to allow time in the Commons for MPs to consider the bill and vote on it.
[see also: Don’t legalise assisted dying to honour my friend Frank Field. Do it because it’s right]
Harold Shipman – “Doctor Death” – is often cited by opponents of medical assistance in dying as a warning. Individuals like Shipman, it is argued, would take advantage of any change in the law to carry out their grisly acts. Yet Shipman, who has killed around 250 patients, is more of an example of what can happen when electricity is not controlled in the current system. As Dr Aneez Esmail, medical adviser to the Shipman Murder Inquiry, Recount the Time in 2019, the best safeguard is “to have everything in the open”. Esmail, who supports physician-assisted dying, continued, “When you don’t talk about it, doctors end up having tremendous power and are able to abuse that power. “
This is why guarantees are at the forefront of Baroness Meacher’s bill. If he is proposing to give sane, terminally ill patients the right to die while taking life-ending medication, he does so on condition that two doctors and a High Court judge agree. In addition, the request would only be accepted if he had six months or less to live.
Medical assistance in dying is already legal in many parts of the world. In addition to Switzerland, it is legal in a number of US states including Oregon, Washington, Colorado and California, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Belgium, Luxembourg, Colombia and , since 2016, in Canada. In Australia, assisted dying laws have been passed in five of the six states. The Scottish Parliament will consider a bill on assisted dying in its next session. Last year, the Royal College of Physicians changed his position to become neutral on the issue after many years of opposition.
In the US state of Oregon, which implemented the world’s first assisted dying law in 1997, there are no proof a disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations. Since 1998, a total 2,518 people received prescriptions under the law, with a median age of 74. Ninety percent were in a hospice at the time of death; 68 percent had cancer; and the most frequently cited reason for ending life was “decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life good” (90%).
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey and Rabbi Jonathan Romain recently wrote in a joint essay for the British medical journal, “Believing in the sanctity of life… does not mean believing in the sanctity of suffering or ignoring measures to avoid it. There is nothing sacred about agony. Both support a change in the law, as do many of their herds. A 2019 survey over 5,000 people found that 82 percent of British Christians and 80 percent of religious people support physician-assisted dying for terminally ill and mentally competent patients.
Up to 650 terminally ill patients of people commit suicide each year, while up to 6,500 attempt to do so. People with sufficient funds can travel to Switzerland. Yet, because patients often fear losing the physical ability to make this trip, some end their lives preemptively. So a law that is ostensibly in place to preserve life ends up shortening it.
The debate on assisted dying rests on a fundamental moral question: who owns their life? Does it belong to the individual, to the state or to a higher power? Opponents of assisted dying speak of life as an intrinsic good – the quality of life in question being treated almost as an afterthought.
Yet those of us who have witnessed a degenerative disease up close have had to accept that it is not always like this: that there are times when the end of a human life can come long before. the absolute end of “life”. The law should also recognize this.
[see also: A dying man, a doctor who wanted him treated and a paramedic who didn’t]