Should the Assisted Dying Bill become law?

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Yes – Sophie Barber

Recently, Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill went to a third reading in Parliament, proposing a new law under which terminally ill adults could choose to end their own lives. In the UK currently, it is illegal to assist someone to die. 76% of people in England and Wales believe this needs to change, and so the new bill has been met with a furore of approval.

The proposed legislation could mean that only people over the age of 18 who are considered mentally competent are able to determine their own deaths. It also highlights that a doctor or nurse cannot administer the medication, only provide it and assist the patient. These strict legal safeguards are in place specifically to stop anyone abusing the new law.

In my opinion, this bill is long overdue. Many people who suffer from fatal and terminal diseases end their lives in unbearable amounts of pain, with little control over anything. This law would allow sufferers to take back some autonomy; they would be able to limit their own pain and choose a dignified death, instead of an impossibly long and drawn out process.

Criticisms of this bill seem to fall pretty flat. It has been implemented in the US state of Oregon for the past 16 years, and no cases of abuse have ever been recorded. There has not been any large scale problems with the law, such as people trying to force those who are mentally ill to acquiesce – quite the contrary. In fact, the suffering of terminal patients seems to have lessened considerably.

As for people who deem the bill as a way to assist suicide, they couldn’t be more wrong. The patients who benefit from the new law are those whose prognosis has given them six months or less to live. Health professionals must confirm that there is no possibility of recovery from the illness. Adults must also be in a healthy state of mind, so those suffering from depression or other mental illnesses would not meet the criteria for this process and so could not legally end their own lives. After making the choice to die, patients have a number of days in which they can revoke this decision if they change their minds. Therefore, the risk of people being assisted in their death without proper consideration or consent is pretty much non-existent.

In general, there is very little public, legal, or parliamentary desire to punish those who, at the current time, must go abroad with their significant others to fulfil their wishes for an assisted death. Surely, it would be much easier and more comfortable for these people and their loved ones to be able to remain at home when making this monumental choice?

It is cruel and morally unfair to place restrictions on someone’s ability to control their own life and death. The dignity of these people is put in jeopardy if the government refuses to pass this bill. Their suffering can become intolerable. For example, somebody with terminal cancer may end their life in agony, with little control or dignity. The new bill would allow that person to choose the time of their own death and enjoy the time they have left with their loved ones, unmarred by physical deterioration. Although palliative care is in place for these situations, this often cannot compensate for a patient’s loss of bodily functions, or make up for the prospect of a dignified end being taken away from then.

In such a forward thinking, liberal country, I don’t think I am alone in believing that this bill can only bring positive effects in people’s lives. Losing somebody is hard enough as it is; watching them suffer seems unnecessary and hurtful for everybody involved. We can only hope that Lord Falconer’s bill is made an Act of Parliament soon, allowing those people with terminal illnesses some final moments of dignity.

No – Julia Molloy

As a practising Catholic, it would be very easy for me to hide behind my faith and say: “Catholic teaching does not agree with assisted dying, and therefore I don’t.” However, my opposition to the Assisted Dying Bill, proposed by Lord Falconer, is far more complicated than religious belief – and in fact, it has very little to do with my faith at all.

Lord Falconer’s bill has recently been put through a third reading at the House of Lords, with 50 amendments suggested and accusations flying around that the lords are trying to “strangle” the bill. Supporters, on the other hand, argue that the bill is about the choice to die rather than implying that terminally ill patients should take this option. The bill itself proposes that patients have to: be terminally ill with six months or less to live; be mentally sound and have a “settled will” to die; have two doctors certify that the patient is of settled will to die; and administer the drug to themselves.

Firstly, what is important to note is that those who brought the concept of assisted dying into the public eye – namely, people such as the late Tony Nicklinson with locked-in syndrome – are not covered by the bill. The multiple cases that have reached the media, as terrible as they are, would not be affected at all by the assisted dying proposal, and in fact some such people are against it. The BBC spoke to a sufferer of motor neurone disease, who can only communicate using technology controlled by the movement of her eyes. She argued that, should the Assisted Dying Bill become law: “People would look at me and ask why I am alive and not asking to be killed.” Why would we want to put anyone in that terrible state of mind?

This hits the nub of why the Assisted Dying Bill should not become law. It could seriously destabilise the most vulnerable in our society, pressurising them to consider assisted dying, especially at this time of economic austerity. In Britain there is a culture of not wanting to be a burden, not wanting to put anyone else, even our loved ones, out of their way for ourselves. By allowing assisted dying to become an option, suddenly terminally ill patients have a way to stop themselves from being a burden, when in fact, with the possibility of palliative care, their quality of life could enable them to spend some valuable time with their loved ones.

None of us can predict the future, and none of us can truly know how many enjoyable hours a patient could spend, free from pain, with loved ones before their death. Take the late Lynda Bellingham, for example. She made the decision to stop chemotherapy, but made every effort possible to try to make it to Christmas, it being her favourite time of year. If assisted dying was an option, surely hers and other such people’s whole mentality will be altered because of the possibility of not only relieving their pain permanently but relieving their loved ones of them being a burden. The Assisted Dying Bill is something of a knife-edge – patients could be cutting short their life without allow for the possibility of palliative care either working for them or advancing technologically so that it will absolutely work for them. Surely there could be nothing worse than realising, after a patient has taken their own life, that they could have had more time together.

There’s equally the problem of truly distinguishing whether a patient is of “settled will” to die. Although the bill does necessitate a cooling-off period, would somebody who has just been diagnosed as terminally ill be able to rationally make such an irreversible decision? And how can doctors measure whether someone is of “settled will”? It is a qualitative measurement, and therefore subjective and allowing too much room for error.

Death is a terrifying, almost taboo subject area. Yet bringing the possibility of assisted dying to law would, I think, be a grave mistake. I do believe that human life is sacred, and only God can take it away; I do agree with Catholic teaching. But opposition to the Assisted Dying Bill is about much more than that – it’s about protecting the vulnerable and not sinisterly giving those who think themselves a burden to society and their loved ones a way of escaping this eventuality.

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