Assisted dying is currently illegal in the UK. It is being debated in Parliament and about to the enter the committee stage. The right to end your own life has always caused controversy, and this bill could see the UK follow other countries by legalising euthanasia.
The bill would enable terminally ill adults to end their own life with those providing assistance avoiding prosecution. This legislation could be seen as a solution to the issues surrounding palliative care, something that many feel is lacking. However, when people are in so much pain, should they have autonomy over their own lives and when to die?
Polls taken on the issue of assisted dying consistently demonstrate that the majority of the public wish for the law to be reformed. A 2021 YouGov poll commissioned by Humanists UK found that 81% of British adults are in support of the bill. This means they support the notion of mentally competent individuals with terminal illnesses choosing to end their own lives, with the help of medical assistance.
When asked whether euthanasia should be considered as a solution for those suffering with terminal illnesses, Christine Archer, 71, from Brighton, was “definitely for” the bill. Drawing on her experience as an NHS nurse, she stated: “I’ve seen a lot of people suffering and dying. Yes, there is a lot of palliative care now and it can help them. But, not everybody gets the palliative care. For me personally I would like to be euthanised when my time is ready. When I am ready, I am considering going over to Dignitas.”
Despite this, there are still those who do not support this legislation. Westminster World reached out to Care Not Killing, a UK based organisation promoting palliative care and opposing euthanasia. Alistair Thompson, spokesman for the charity, explained: “Better palliative care should be prioritised rather than legalising assisted dying. […] Gaps increase in care and this is where we believe there is a significant problem that needs to be answered. Figures that have been used in both the Scottish Parliament and Westminster Parliament show that one in four people who would benefit from palliative care are not currently receiving it.”
Mrs. Archer mentioned Dignitas, the Swiss organisation that allows “accompanied suicide” who refer to the process as something that shows “militant determination” and “autonomy”. In fact, Mr. Thomson argued that we should be looking at how the UK records suicide, and that indeed, there should be “additional support for people who are feeling suicidal and then we need to be looking at how we care for people.” According to Dignity in Dying research: “New estimates suggest 300-650 dying citizens take their own lives every year, with 3000-6500 attempting to do so, in addition to 50 Brits a year who travel to Switzerland for assisted death.”
Charlotte Naughton, from Brighton, wrote to the Guardian on behalf of her aunt Ann Bruce’s trip to Switzerland to put an end to her painful decline from Parkinson’s. Charlotte’s moving recollection of the last moments with her aunt show that while she didn’t want to travel to a different country to end her life, she had no other choice if she wanted a good and peaceful death. The account sparked many reactions among the public in support of the bill, requesting the UK to recognise assisted dying.
Shane, a 23-year-old philosophy and economics alumni, expressed during our Vox Pops: “I think your body is inherently yours, and so your decision on what you do with it is really down to you. If someone feels that they’ve gotten to a stage where they can’t handle life, or they can’t handle the pain or whatever experience they have, I think it’s their right to decide for themselves.” When asked how he would respond to those who are against euthanasia and assisted dying, Shane said: “Mind your own business.”
Giving the right to terminally ill people to die peacefully and willingly, assisted by a medical body, should be a priority for the British Government. Numbers show that it would decrease suicidal rates and give an opportunity for assisted suicide instead, avoiding elongated pain for the ill person and their loved ones.
Last week, the BBC reported on the launch of a new ‘suicide pod’ in Switzerland that could be in use as early as next year. According to a Swiss legal expert, it does not break any laws. New technology to aid with euthanasia begs the question, is assisted dying something that more people are considering? With the option to be 3D printed and transported anywhere, this could give people the choice to end their own life where they feel most comfortable, rather than making the journey to a clinic.