Over the past few weeks, I have received correspondence from constituents about the Assisted Dying Bill – a Private Members’ Bill which was started in the House of Lords by crossbencher Baroness Molly Meacher. Assisted dying is currently prohibited in England under the Suicide Act 1961 and Baroness Meacher’s Bill, if passed, will ‘enable adults who are terminally ill to be provided at their request with specified assistance to end their own life; and for connected purposes’.
Legalising doctor-assisted suicide has become a topic of discussion more recently due to the British Medical Association voting by a small margin to adopt a neutral position on assisted suicide, rather than opposing it as it has historically done.
There are many who believe that euthanasia, or the termination of someone’s life on compassionate grounds to save a person from suffering pain and/or to prevent an individual from being a burden to their families, should be made legal. There are also many who oppose this Bill and what it would enable.
I understand the sentiment of wanting to spare a loved one from pain and suffering. I looked after my dying father in the last few months of his life and the extreme anxiety, anguish and, yes, sometimes anger I felt watching him struggle is something which I cannot put into words. However, I can put into words how much he valued his life and how much I, and his entire family, valued his life to the very end.
As with some arguments in favour of assisting suicide, there are also reasonable arguments against doctor-assisted suicide; some find it offensive that doctors who take a Hippocratic Oath – an Oath of ethics – essentially to preserve life, should be administering medication which ends life, impacting on their integrity and the trust patients have in the medical profession, as a whole. Others are concerned that it is a slippery slope to limits on euthanasia eroding, as we see in Belgium or the Netherlands. I fully agree with the argument that more needs to be invested in palliative care which should at the very least alleviate and manage pain, but I also feel very strongly that if there is the choice available for assisted suicide, patients will feel pressure in their own minds or directly from family and medical professionals to end their life so that they are not a burden or taking up valuable medical resources. No one wants to feel disposable.
I am a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dying Well, a group which promotes a right to excellent care at the end of life and stands against the legalisation of suicide. Fundamentally, I believe in the sanctity of life; that every life is precious, valued and should be respected.
Assisted suicide is a very big step and we have to ask ourselves whether, as a society, we care enough about the most vulnerable that we make it easy, or part of everyday life, to deliberately take a person’s life when that person is in their hour of greatest need of love, compassion, and security. There is a better alternative; offering people the quality of care that we should all expect, helping us to live our lives to the very end with the best possible physical, emotional, and spiritual care.