The right to choose

Assisted dying is prohibited in England and Wales under the Suicide Act (1961), and in Northern Ireland under the Criminal Justice Act (1966) which states that anyone who “encourages or assists a suicide” is liable to up to 14 years in prison. In Scotland, there is no specific crime of assisting a suicide in Scotland. But it is possible that helping a person to die could lead to prosecution for murder, culpable homicide or reckless endangerment.

The current law does not work.

  • Every week one British citizen travels to Switzerland for help to die; on average this cost is £10,000. People often die earlier than they would want because they have to be well enough to travel.

  • Every year over 300 terminally ill people end their own lives in England, often in distressing circumstances.

  • Every year thousands of people suffer at the very end of their lives despite the best efforts of care professionals. Research suggests that even if every dying person had access to the best possible specialist care, 17 people a day would still suffer as they die.

Terminally ill people are being denied choice and control over their deaths.

They deserve an informed, evidence-based debate when lawmakers are determining what end-of-life options should be available to them. In order for this to be achieved, people need to know the facts.

We should support a law which would give people who have six months or less to live the option to control the timing and manner of their death. Many attempts to change the law have been proposed but all have failed. Margo Macdonald, an independent MSP who lived with Parkinson’s disease, drafted the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill in 2012. The Bill would have allowed a person with a terminal, life-limiting or life-shortening disease to end their life after being prescribed with a life-ending medication by a doctor. It was rejected.

The law I want is for terminally ill, mentally competent adults

  • to be able to end their own life by taking life-ending medication and does not permit another person to do it for them

  • has a waiting period to give them time to reflect on their decision

  • requires assessment by two doctors and oversight by a high-court judge

  • allows doctors to conscientiously object from being involved in the process

This is based on the Death with Dignity Act in Oregon, which has worked safely for over 20 years and has been adopted by many other American states such as California and Washington, as well as the Australian state of Victoria.

Over 150 million people around the world live in a place where some form of assisted dying is legal. As more countries around the world change their laws to give dying people choice, terminally ill people here in the UK are being left behind.

I agree with the majority of religions that life is sacred. In my role as a Celebrant however, I have seen too many die in great pain, who should have been allowed to pass away earlier as they had wished. That, too, is part of valuing them. Those who find suffering enriching or worth enduring to their last breath deserve every support – but in whose interest are we forcing a person to stay alive when their final wish is to let go of life?

We see no problem in usurping God’s role by intervening when we deem fit, prolonging life through interventions such as blood transfusions or organ transplants. Similarly, we should also be able to bring life to a gentle close within limits and safeguards.

We should assert that there is nothing sacred about suffering, nothing holy about agony and those who wish to avoid it should be able to do so – as a human right but also in keeping with religious ethics.

If there is a right to die well – or at least to die as well as possible – it means having the option of assisted dying, whether or not it is taken up.”

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