On Friday 11 September, MPs will be voting on a bill. A bill which has had little media attention. A bill which has been introduced by a relatively unknown Labour MP - Rob Marris. And yet a bill which, if passed, will have profound implications for people up and down the country. It is a bill dealing with matters of life and death.
With a bill which excites such emotive feelings, and delves into questions of ethical and moral dimensions, it surprises me that there has been very little discussion and debate about the bill. In fact, the mainstream media seems to have barely touched upon it. That is part of the reason why I am writing this article. People seem uninformed and unaware of the bill. And that is dangerous. What is more dangerous is that some MPs could walk into the House of Commons on Friday and vote on this bill, without having heard the opinions and feelings of their constituents whom they are there to represent.
Let me explain the bill. The "Marris Death Bill" is aimed at mentally competent adults who have less than six months to live. It will enable them to ask for (and receive) assisted suicide from doctors. On the surface, this bill almost seems merciful. After all, if the patients in question only have six months to live and they are suffering anyway, why not let them be put out of their misery? It is very hard not to sympathise, especially for those of us who know of, or are related to, people who are nearing the end of their lives in pain, and with seemingly little to live for.
There are a few problems with the bill, however. Firstly, for the bill to work, it would need the complete cooperation of the medical profession, as it would be doctors who would administer the assisted suicide. However, it would appear that the medical profession strongly opposes assisted suicide. According to the Royal College of General Practitioners' Assisted Dying Consultation, 77% of the RCGP believe that assisted suicide should be opposed. Additionally, the British Medical Association opposes any kind of assisted suicide, as do three quarters of UK GPs. Clearly, the medical profession are not ready or willing to change practice and it is unfair to force doctors to carry out assisted suicides if they are unhappy to do so. After all, it isn't the easiest thing to be a party to effectively killing somebody, no matter how it may be presented.
One very sad consequence this bill could bring about is that old people could be made to feel as if they are a burden. They may then choose to die earlier through assisted suicide, when they may have wished to die naturally. This places an unfair pressure on older people who are probably feeling very vulnerable already. For example, according to the 2013 Death with Dignity Act Report from Washington State Department of Health, 61% of people in Washington State who chose assisted suicide claimed that being a burden was a key reason for choosing death. This is quite shocking and terribly sad. Old people should be able to die feeling valued and cared for - not feeling as if they were a burden.
Although this next point is hypothetical, we should be careful what we pass as a law in terms of what other problems it could open up in future. If we could foresee the effects that one action could make, we might be less hasty to do or say certain things. It is the same with this bill. If even this limited form of assisted suicide becomes law, what could be passed in future? Could assisted suicide be offered to those without terminal illnesses? Could others be allowed to make the decision about suicide for those who are ill? There are endless possibilities. Now I'm not paranoid about this but I think it is wise to see where a slippery slope is going down to. For example, Fiona Bruce MP points out that, if we look at experiences of other countries that have allowed assisted suicide, they have met with more and more pressure to broaden laws around the issue. For example, Belgium has now legalised euthanasia for terminally ill children, only 12 years after they legalised it for adults.
Perhaps the most important point, however, is that life is always precious and must be protected. Perhaps surprisingly, many people living with difficult health conditions would agree with that...despite their pain. Not Dead Yet UK, for example, is a remarkable organisation which opposes the legalised killing of disabled people. All those involved are disabled people themselves, with either physical, sensory, mental conditions or learning difficulties. They have one thing in common. Despite struggling to cope with life in many different ways, they realise the value of the gift of life. Some of them recognise, also, the giver of that life.
I hope this article has encouraged you to think more about the matter...to debate and discuss! Whatever Friday's result, and whatever your opinion, we are all united hopefully in one area and that is that we must always show love and respect to our elderly and ill.