THE BLOG

Five Reasons Why the Assisted Dying Bill is Long Overdue

17/07/2014 13:01 BST | Updated 16/09/2014 10:59 BST

1. Terminally ill individuals should have the right to make an informed choice.

If a person is suffering from a terminal illness they are in the rare position of knowing, roughly, when their life will come to an end. They will also have been informed how an illness will attack their body, and the resulting level of pain that they are likely to endure. Facing this situation, some people may wish to reject medical treatment and die of natural causes. Many will choose to receive the best level of palliative care in the world, currently provided by the NHS, and fight for as long as they can to survive. Others may make the informed decision to end their lives swiftly and painlessly, as they do not wish to spend their final months in prolonged agony and suffering. The choice of how patients end their life should not be made by a doctor, or the patients' family, but by the patients themselves. They are the experts, because they have lived through their lives and should be given the dignity and respect to end it in the way that they see fit. It is a mistake to assume that just because you want to end your life in a certain way, others should be denied the right to make their own informed choice on how to end theirs. Everyone has the right to live their life, and this should extend to their right to decide how it will end.

2. For some, an assisted death is more compassionate.

At Prime Minister's Questions this week, David Cameron said he was "not convinced" by the assisted dying bill as he felt "people might be being pushed into things that they don't actually want for themselves". Of course, there are currently thousands of terminally ill people every year who find themselves in this position. After being told that the final six months of their life will consist of drug-taking, hospital beds, distraught friends and relatives, and a terminal decline in their living standards, physical ability, appearance and personal autonomy; many will wish to avoid the stress and suffering of their illness by choosing a more compassionate and dignified end through assisted dying.

However, under the current law these patients will be pushed into "things they don't actually want for themselves" and forced to endure six months of intrusion, illness and demoralisation against their will. The current system fails those who never wished to have their family see them spend their final months in pain and misery. We can only ensure that no-one is being pressured into a death they didn't want by allowing individual patients to freely choose how to end their lives.

3. Safeguards are in place to prevent a slippery slope.

Many of the arguments against the Assisted Dying Bill seem to be being made by people who haven't read what is actually being proposed. Assisted Dying will only be available to those who have a terminal illness and less than six months left to live. The patient will then have to be assessed by two independent doctors who will have to show that (a) the patient has less than 6 months left to live (b) the patient is mentally competent and has the ability to make an informed decision, free of outside pressure (c) the patient is aware of the palliative care options that are available to them. The patient will then have to wait for two weeks to think over their decision before any further action is taken (or six days, if they have less than a month to live) and can change their mind at any point during this time.

The bill will only allow Assisted Dying for terminally ill adults; and does not allow for the euthanising of people just because they are the elderly or disabled. It also would not be available to those who lack the mental competence to make an informed decision.

4. A 'safe' option for patients determined to end their lives.

If there are terminally ill people in society who are determined to end their life in a way that avoids months of prolonged suffering, we have both a duty to provide them with a regulated consultation process to ensure that they are making an informed decision, free of pressure. We also must provide them with a method of ending their life that is clean, safe and dignified. There have been patients in the past who, when faced with the prospect of a slow painful death from a terminal illness, jumped in front of trains or hanged themselves because they felt there was no other option for them. No civilised society should be driving people towards committing gruesome acts suicide. Under the Assisted Dying Bill, the patient choosing to end their life would self-administer the prescribed life-ending medication in a safe, clinical environment. Health professionals will not be authorised to administer a medicine with the intention of causing death, and must remain by the patient's bedside until they have passed away or decided against taking the medication.

The bill allows patients the dignity and autonomy to end their life in the safest possible environment, and prevents doctors from directly administering lethal medication.

5. The public want the right to choose

Professor Stephen Hawking, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the ex-Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey have all stated publicly this week that they support Assisted Dying - and the public are overwhelmingly on their side. A 2012 survey by YouGov found that 81% of UK adults support the notion that mentally competent individuals with incurable or terminal diseases should be allowed to choose to receive medical assistance to end their lives. This included the support of 82% of Anglicans, 66% of Catholics and 79% of disabled people.

The Assisted Dying Bill is long overdue because we can't keep forcing people to die in pain and misery against their will, or pressuring the terminally ill into committing gruesome acts of suicide as a last resort. We must realise that the right to life includes the right for individuals to make an informed decision to die in the way that they perceive to be the most dignified.